Human Anatomy – Intestines

human-anatomy-intestinesDescribed as a long tube stretching from the stomach to the anus, the intestines are in charge of absorbing nutrients and water from food. It is comprised of the small intestine, large intestine and rectum.

As long as 20 feet when uncoiled, with a 1-inch diameter, the small intestine (or small bowel) absorbs the bulk of nutrients from food, by then digested by the stomach. Next to the small intestine is the large intestine, also known as the large bowel or colon. Measuring 5 feet in length, two inches wider than the small intestine, the large intestine saps water from the materials in the small intestine. Consequently, the colon forms the stool, which is ejected out of the rectum.

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Intestine conditions and diseases

Diarrhea and constipation are the most common conditions associated with the intestines. Diarrhea is when you defecate more frequently than usual, the stool loose and watery. Conversely, constipation is when you have trouble defecating. Constipation and diarrhea can have multiple underlying conditions.

Diarrhea may be, for one, a sign of a bacterial infection underway in the intestines. Bacteria like salmonella and shigella can latch onto food and infiltrate the intestines, causing salmonellosis and shigellosis, respectively.

Bloody diarrhea may be a symptom of inflammatory bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. In these conditions, the colon becomes significantly inflamed.

Diarrhea or constipation may also be a symptom of colon cancer, insofar as cancerous growths cause intestinal obstruction. Colon cancer is the most potentially fatal condition in the intestine, affecting over 100,000 people in the US yearly. Together with rectal cancer (dubbed as colorectal cancer), colon cancer is truly a condition to reckon with.

In contrast, small intestine cancer is much rarer. Nevertheless, it claims around 1,000 lives in the US every year.

Apart from cancer, there are many other intestinal conditions of note:

  • Intussusception. A fatal condition wherein the small intestine folds itself, as in a telescope. However, it usually affects children.
  • Enteritis. Also known as stomach flu, this condition refers to an inflamed small intestine. It is commonly caused by a bacterial, parasitic or viral infection.
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Symptoms include intense abdominal pain, stomach cramps, bloating, and diarrhea/constipation.
  • Diverticulosis. Tiny depressed places in the walls of the large intestine expose the linings of the colon, creating pouches known as diverticuli. They are harmless unless inflamed, leading to diverticulitis. You would get constipated and a painful abdomen as a result.
  • Celiac disease. Small intestine does not absorb nutrients as usual, resulting in weight loss and abdominal pain. It is caused by an allergic aversion to gluten, a kind of protein found in bread.
  • Rectal prolapse. Rectum deviates from its normal position, at times protruding from the anus. It may occur if you strain too much when defecating.
  • Carcinoid tumor. A growth, either malignant or benign, in the small bowel. Usually accompanied by skin flushes and diarrhea
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Treating intestine conditions

Treating diarrhea alone, without any underlying conditions, usually only necessitates antidiarrheal medicines purchased over the counter. Likewise, relief from constipation takes form in many over-the-counter laxatives and stool softeners, which rouse the intestinal muscles and rehydrate the body.

Colon cancer treatment partly requires surgical removal of the organ, a procedure known as colectomy. Colectomy may also be recommended for ulcerative colitis.

Evidently, a diet rich in fiber, coupled with an overall healthy lifestyle, is the key to avoiding many adverse intestinal conditions.

Tests for intestine conditions

Doctors try to diagnose cancer via colonoscopy, after an optional fecal occult blood testing. They do this by inserting a camera-wielding endoscope into the rectum, towards the colon, where the endoscope would transmit magnified images of the organ.

During this procedure, the doctor may remove colon tissue samples, using tools on the endoscope, for a biopsy. In addition, the doctor may remove any polyps the endoscope can, a process called polypectomy.

More sophisticated hospitals today use virtual colonoscopy, wherein the doctor simultaneously uses a computer and an X-ray machine to view the large intestine. If the doctor wants to see the left side of the colon exclusively, then a sigmoidoscopy is in order.

There are other ways to use and endoscope for diagnosing intestinal problems. For one, there is upper endoscopy or esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD), in which the endoscope is introduced via the mouth.

Yet another novel way to examine the intestines is the so-called capsule endoscopy. In this test, you are made to swallow a capsule bearing a microscopic camera. Inside the small intestine, the camera would send back photos to a receiver.

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Human Anatomy Series NavigationHuman Anatomy – AppendixHuman Anatomy – Colon

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4 Responses

  1. healy says:

    If you have any complains about your intestine then better contact your doctor. This includes seeking regular medical care throughout the lifetime so that a licensed health care provider can evaluate symptoms, the risks of developing intestinal conditions, and perform routine screening tests for such diseases

  2. It is important to always check in your health. Not just specific part of your body but all your well-being!

    Intestines, needs to be cleansed as ‘digestions’ occur in intestine (small intestines to be exact)

    I am glad to read your post, I am looking forward for another posting from you!b 🙂

  3. This was a well-written piece about the intestines. What is interesting to me is your comment about the 100,000 people a year suffering with colon cancer. There must be a connection to diet, lifestyle choices and the disease. Thank you for a great post.

  4. AsifAli says:

    Well nice. i was checking and found that you have not covered the breast anatomy. i would like to make a like of breast anatomy with my post of breast cancer

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