The intestines make up a large part of the lower digestive tract. Made up of two parts, the small and large intestines, they play a crucial role in digestion and absorption of nutrients. While the two parts of the intestines make up a single long tube-like organ, the small and large intestines have very distinct roles.
The small intestine, which is responsible for absorbing nutrients from food, measures up to 20 feet long and is further divided into three parts, namely the duodenum, jejunum, and the ileum. The large intestine, on the other hand, is only about 5 feet long but is thicker in diameter at 3 inches. Also known as the colon, it is responsible for absorbing water from the body’s waste products. In the process, it creates the stool, which then makes its way to the rectum.
Common Intestinal Problems/Conditions
The intestines are sometimes affected by certain medical problems, giving rise to intestinal conditions, which symptoms include bloating, abdominal pain or cramping, and either diarrhea or constipation. These intestinal problems include:
Enteritis – Enteritis develops when the small intestine becomes inflamed, usually due to viruses, bacteria, or parasites.
Colitis – Colitis occurs when the large intestine becomes irritated or infected, resulting in inflammation. Many people who suffer from inflammatory bowel disease also eventually experience colitis. One particular type of colitis is ulcerative colitis, also known as inflammatory bowel disease or Crohn’s disease. This condition can sometimes also affect the rectum.
Irritable bowel syndrome – Simply known as IBS, this condition is often associated with depression, previous intestinal infection, and stress leading to a variety of symptoms including constipation or diarrhea and recurrent abdominal pain.
Colon and rectal cancer – Considered as two of the most common types of cancer, cancers of the colon and rectum are the leading cause of cancer death in many countries. Patients with an increased risk of these cancers should undergo regular screening, which can increase their chances of preventing or surviving the disease.
Common Intestinal Procedures and Surgeries
Intestinal problems sometimes require certain procedures or surgeries to relieve associated symptoms and prevent any disruption to the digestion process. The most widely used surgical treatments for intestinal conditions include:
Endoscopy – An endoscopy is a minimally invasive diagnostic procedure wherein a flexible tube called an endoscope is inserted into a patient’s mouth or rectum to access the intestines, depending on which part of the intestines need to be examined. It can be used to examine the small intestines, in which case it is called an upper endoscopy or an esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD), as well as the colon, in which case it is called a colonoscopy.
Colon biopsy – A colon biopsy involves taking a small sample of tissue from the lining of the colon for further examination. It is often used to diagnose and treat infections, inflammations, and cancers of the intestines.
Colon surgery (colectomy) – Surgical treatment of colon-related conditions can be performed using both open and laparoscopic procedures. In some cases, a part or the entire colon may need to be removed to treat severe problems, such as severe bleeding and highly malignant cancers.