National Digestive Diseases
Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC)

A service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), National Institutes of Health (NIH)

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Digestive Diseases Dictionary A - D


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the area between the chest and the hips containing the stomach, small intestine, large intestine, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, and spleen.

abdominal migraine
(ab-DOM-ih-nul MY-grayn)

sudden, repeated attacks of abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting, usually in children who later develop migraine headaches. A headache may also be present.


the way nutrients are taken up by the digestive system.


a rare disorder of the esophagus making it difficult to swallow food because the muscle at the end of the esophagus does not relax enough for the passage to open.

Drawing of the esophagus showing achalasia with the esophagus, diaphragm, contracted muscle, and trapped food labeled.


a lack of hydrochloric acid in the digestive juices of the stomach.

activated charcoal
(AK-tih-vayt-ed) (CHAR-kohl)

a substance that may be used to treat accidental or intentional ingestion of toxic substances.


refers to conditions that happen suddenly and last a short time. Acute is the opposite of chronic, or long lasting.


viruses that cause gastroenteritis and respiratory infection. Vomiting and diarrhea appear about 1 week after exposure. Infections occur all year round and most often in children less than 2 years old.


a condition that occurs when a person swallows too much air, causing gas and frequent belching.


an inherited condition causing a lack of the enzyme needed to digest milk sugar.

Alagille syndrome
(ah-lah-ZHEEL) (SIN-drohm)

a genetic condition causing multiple abnormalities in the body, including in the liver. A lower than normal number of bile ducts inside the liver reduces bile passage.

alimentary canal
(al-ih-MEN-tur-ee) (kuh-NAL)

see gastrointestinal tract.

alkaline reflux esophagitis
(AL-kuh-lyn) (REE-fluhks) (uh-sof-uh-JY-tiss)

the development of esophagitis due to prolonged contact of the esophagus with nonacidic gastric contents.


a condition in which the body’s immune system has an over-reaction to certain foods, animals, plants, or other substances.


an acute or chronic infection caused by amoebas, a type of parasite. Symptoms vary from mild diarrhea to frequent, watery diarrhea and loss of water and fluids in the body. See gastroenteritis.

amino acids
(uh-MEE-noh) (ASS-idz)

the basic building blocks of proteins. The body produces many amino acids and others come from food, which the body breaks down for use by the cells. See protein.

ampulla of Vater
(am-PUL-luh) (uhv) (VAH-tur)

the opening of the common bile duct and pancreatic duct into the duodenum. Also called papilla of Vater.

anal fissure
(AY-nuhl) (FISH-ur)

a small tear in the anus that may cause itching, pain, or bleeding.

Drawing on the left of a cross section of the anus with the anus and anal fissure labeled.  Drawing on the right of a direct view of the anus with the anus and anal fissure labeled.
Anal fissure.

anal fistula
(AY-nuhl) (FISS-tyoo-luh)

a passage that develops between the anus and the skin. Most fistulas are the result of an abscess or infection that spreads to the skin. Fistulas are typical of Crohn's disease.


a surgical connection of two body parts. An example is an operation in which part of the colon is removed and the two remaining ends are joined.


a condition caused when the body does not have enough red blood cells or hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is a protein in the blood that carries oxygen.


abnormal or enlarged blood vessels in the gastrointestinal tract.


an x ray that uses dye to detect blood vessels in organs.


related to, or involving, both the rectum and anus.

anorectal abscess
(AY-noh-REK-tuhl) (AB-sess)

a collection of pus in a cavity in the anorectal area.

anorectal atresia
(AY-noh-REK-tuhl) (uh-TREE-zee-uh)

the lack of a normal opening between the rectum and anus.

anorectal function tests
(AY-noh-REK-tuhl) (FUHNK-shuhn) (tests)

tests used to diagnose abnormal functioning of the anus or rectum and to evaluate anal sphincter muscle function.


a test to look for anal fissures, fistulas, hemorrhoids, or cancer. A special instrument called an anoscope is used to look into the anus.


medicines that neutralize acids in the stomach. (Brand names: Maalox, Mylanta, Di-Gel.)


a medicine that kills bacteria. Examples are cephalexin and amoxicillin. (Brand names: Keflex, Novamox.)


medicines that are often used to treat muscle spasms in the intestine. Examples are dicyclomine and hyoscyamine. (Brand names: Bentyl, Levsin.)


medicines that help control diarrhea. An example is loperamide. (Brand name: Imodium.)


medicines used to treat nausea and vomiting. Examples are promethazine, prochlorperazine, and ondansetron. (Brand names: Compazine, Phenergan, Zofran.)


medicines that help reduce muscle spasms in the intestines. Examples are dicyclomine and atropine. (Brand names: Bentyl, Donnatal.)


an operation to remove the lower portion of the stomach, called the antrum. This operation helps reduce the amount of stomach acid. It is rarely used when a person has complications from ulcers.


the lower part of the stomach, which is lined with mucus and produces gastrin.


the opening at the end of the digestive tract where bowel contents leave the body.

aorto-enteric fistula
(ay-OR-toh-en-TUR-ik) (FISS-tyoo-luh)

a rare condition in which a prosthetic aortic graft causes an opening into the duodenum.


an operation to remove the appendix.


inflammation of the appendix.


a 4-inch pouch attached to the cecum, the first part of the large intestine. The appendix's function, if any, is unknown.

ascending colon
(uh-SEN-ding) (KOH-lon)

the beginning part of the colon, usually on the right side of the abdomen.


a buildup of fluid in the abdomen usually caused by severe liver disease such as cirrhosis.


a virus that causes vomiting and diarrhea within 1 to 3 days of exposure and is most active during the winter months. It infects primarily infants, young children, and older adults.


the condition of having a disease but none of its symptoms.

atonic colon
(uh-TON-ik) (KOH-lon)

a lack of normal muscle tone or strength in the colon. It may result in chronic constipation. Also called lazy colon.


the lack of a normal opening in the esophagus, intestines, bile ducts, or anus.

atrophic gastritis
(uh-TROF-ik) (gass-TRY-tiss)

chronic irritation of the stomach lining that causes loss of the stomach lining and glands.

autoimmune hepatitis
(AW-toh-ih-MYOON) (HEP-uh-TY-tiss)

a liver disease in which the body's immune system damages liver cells for unknown reasons.


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a chalky liquid used to coat the inside of organs so they will show up on an x ray.

barium enema x ray
(BA-ree-uhm) (EN-uh-muh) (eks) (ray)

x ray of the rectum, colon, and lower part of the small intestine. A barium enema is given first. Barium coats the insides of organs so they will show up on the x ray. Also called lower GI series.

barium meal
(BA-ree-uhm) (meel)

x rays of the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum. The patient swallows barium before x rays are taken. Barium makes the organs show up on x rays. Also called upper GI series.

Barrett's esophagus
(BA-ruhts) (uh-SOF-uh-guhss)

a condition in which the tissue lining the esophagus is replaced by tissue that is similar to the lining of the intestine. It is commonly found in people with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).


see eructation.

Bernstein test
(BURN-steen) (test)

a test used to find out if heartburn is caused by acid in the esophagus. The test involves dripping a mild acid, similar to stomach acid, through a tube placed in the esophagus.


a ball of food, mucus, vegetable fiber, hair, or other material that cannot be digested in the stomach. Bezoars can cause blockage, ulcers, and bleeding.


fluid made by the liver and stored in the gallbladder that helps break down fats and get rid of wastes in the body.

bile acids
(byl) (ASS-idz)

acids made by the liver that work with bile to break down fats.

bile ducts
(byl) (duhkts)

tubes that carry bile from the liver to the gallbladder for storage and to the small intestine for use in digestion.

biliary atresia
(BIL-ee-air-ee) (uh-TREE-zee-uh)

a condition present from birth in which the bile ducts inside or outside the liver do not have normal openings. Bile becomes trapped in the liver, causing jaundice and cirrhosis. Without surgery the condition may cause death.

biliary dyskinesia
(BIL-ee-air-ee) (DISS-kih-NEE-zee-uh)

refers to a group of functional disorders of the biliary system and gallbladder.

biliary stricture
(BIL-ee-air-ee) (STRIK-choor)

a narrowing of the biliary tract from scar tissue that results from injury, disease, pancreatitis, infection, gallstones, or cancer. See stricture.

biliary system
(BIL-ee-air-ee) (SISS-tuhm)

see biliary tract.

biliary tract
(BIL-ee-air-ee) (trakt)

made up of the gallbladder and the bile ducts. Also called biliary system or biliary tree.

Drawing of the biliary system with the pancreas, liver, gallbladder, duodenum, common bile duct, pancreatic duct, cystic duct, and hepatic ducts labeled.
Biliary tract.

biliary tree
(BIL-ee-air-ee) (tree)

see biliary tract.


a reddish-yellow substance formed when hemoglobin breaks down. Bilirubin is found in bile and blood and is normally passed in stool. Too much bilirubin accumulating in the blood is the cause of jaundice.


a machine that measures physical responses. It is used to treat both physical and psychological problems, including motility disorders.


a procedure in which a tiny piece of a body part, such as the colon or liver, is removed for examination with a microscope.

bismuth subsalicylate
(BIZ-muhth) (SUHB-suh-LISS-ih-layt)

a nonprescription medicine used to treat diarrhea, heartburn, indigestion, and nausea. It can be part of the treatment for ulcers caused by the bacterium Helicobacter pylori. (Brand name: Pepto-Bismol.)


a fullness or swelling in the abdomen that often occurs after meals.

blue rubber bleb nevus syndrome
(bloo) (RUHB-ur) (bleb) (NEE-vuhss) (SIN-drohm)

a rare condition with painful lesions found in the small intestine, colon, and sometimes stomach and parts of the nervous system that may cause gastrointestinal bleeding.


rumbling sounds caused by gas moving through the intestines. Also known as stomach “growling.”


another word for the small and large intestines.

bowel movement
(boul) (MOOV-ment)

body wastes passed through the rectum and anus.

bowel obstruction
(boul) (ob-STRUHK-shuhn)

partial or complete blockage of the small or large intestine.

bowel prep
(boul) (prep)

the process used to clean the colon with enemas or a special drink that causes frequent bowel movements. It is used before surgery of the colon, a colonoscopy, or a barium enema x ray. See lavage.

Brooke ileostomy
(bruk) (IL-ee-OSS-tuh-mee)

a procedure in which one end of the small intestine is brought through an opening in the abdominal wall and sewn to the skin to create a stoma. It is performed when the entire colon must be removed or bypassed.

Budd-Chiari syndrome
(buhd-kee-AH-ree) (SIN-drohm)

a rare liver disease in which the veins that drain blood from the liver are blocked or narrowed.

bulking agents
(BUHLK-ing) (AY-jents)

laxatives that make bowel movements soft and easy to pass.


see eructation.


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a family of viruses divided into the noroviruses and the sapoviruses. They can infect people of all ages and are transmitted from person to person and through contaminated water or food—especially oysters from contaminated waters.


stones or solid lumps such as gallstones.

Campylobacter pylori
(KAM-pih-loh-BAK-tur) (py-LOR-eye)

the original name for the bacterium that causes ulcers. The new name is Helicobacter pylori.


an infection caused by the Candida fungus, which lives naturally in the gastrointestinal tract.


one of the three main classes of food and a source of energy. Carbohydrates are the sugars and starches found in breads, cereals, fruits, and vegetables. During digestion, carbohydrates are changed into simple sugars glucose, galactose, and fructose, which are stored in the liver until cells need them for energy.

Caroli's disease
(kah-ROH-leez) (dih-ZEEZ)

a rare, inherited condition in which the bile ducts in the liver are enlarged and may cause irritation, infection, gallstones, or cancer.


see laxatives.


a thin, flexible tube that carries fluids into or out of the body.

C. difficile
(see) (duh-FISS-uh-lee)

see Clostridium difficile.


a tube that goes through the skin into the beginning of the large intestine to remove gas or feces. This procedure is a short-term way to protect part of the colon while it heals after surgery.


the beginning of the large intestine. The cecum is connected to the lower part of the small intestine, called the ileum.

celiac disease
(SEE-lee-ak) (dih-ZEEZ)

an immune reaction to gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. The disease causes damage to the lining of the small intestine and prevents absorption of nutrients. Also called celiac sprue, gluten intolerance, and nontropical sprue.

celiac sprue
(SEE-lee-ak) (sproo)

see celiac disease.

chloride channel activators
(KLOR-eyed) (CHAN-uhl) (AK-tih-vay-torz)

medication used to increase intestinal fluid and motility to help stool pass, thereby reducing the symptoms of constipation. An example is lubiprostone. (Brand name: Amitiza.) See laxatives.


a series of x rays of the bile ducts.


irritated or infected bile ducts.


an operation to remove the gallbladder.


an irritated gallbladder.

cholecystogram, oral
(KOH-lee-SISS-toh-gram), (OR-uhl)

an x ray of the gallbladder and bile ducts. The patient takes pills containing a special dye that makes the organs show up on x ray. Also called cholecystography, oral.

cholecystography, oral
(KOH-lee-siss-TOG-ruh-fee), (OR-uhl)

see cholecystogram, oral.


a hormone released in the small intestine that causes muscles in the gallbladder and the colon to tighten and relax.


the presence of gallstones in the bile ducts.


the presence of gallstones in the gallbladder.


reduced bile flow, which may be caused by drugs or liver diseases.


a fatlike substance in the body. The body makes and needs some cholesterol, which also comes from foods such as butter and egg yolks. Too much cholesterol may cause gallstones or a buildup of fat in the arteries that causes a disease called atherosclerosis that slows or stops blood flow.


refers to disorders that last a long time, often years. Chronic is the opposite of acute, or brief.

chronic atrophic gastritis
(KRON-ik) (uh-TROF-ik) (gass-TRY-tiss)

end stage of chronic inflammation of the stomach, usually caused by H. pylori, resulting in reduced acid production.

chronic idiopathic constipation
(KRON-ik) (ID-ee-oh-PATH-ik) (KON-stih-PAY-shuhn)

constipation caused by a disturbance of colonic or anorectal motor function of unknown cause.


a thick liquid made of partially digested food and stomach juices. This liquid is made in the stomach and moves into the small intestine for further digestion.


a chronic liver condition caused by scar tissue and cell damage, which makes it hard for the liver to remove poisons or toxins such as alcohol and drugs from the blood. These toxins build up in the blood and may impact brain function.

Drawing on the top shows a portion of normal liver tissue. Drawing on the bottom shows a portion of cirrhotic liver tissue.

Clostridium difficile (C. difficile)
(kloss-TRID-ee-uhm) (duh-FISS-uh-lee)

a bacterium naturally present in the large intestine that can make a toxin that causes diarrhea.


an operation to remove all or part of the colon.


attacks of abdominal pain. Infant colic refers to extended crying of unknown cause in infants.


irritation of the colon.

collagenous colitis
(ko-LAJ-uh-nuhss) (koh-LY-tiss)

a type of colitis having an abnormal band of collagen, which is a threadlike protein.


the part of the large intestine extending from the cecum to, but not including, the rectum. See large intestine.

Drawing of the colon with the ascending colon, transverse colon, descending colon, and sigmoid colon labeled.

colonic conduit
(ko-LON-ik) (KON-doo-it)

a surgical procedure that uses a section of the large bowel, instead of the small intestine, to form a channel for urinary drainage.

colonic inertia
(ko-LON-ik) (in-UR-shuh)

a condition of the colon when the muscles do not work properly, causing constipation.

colonoscopic polypectomy
(koh-LON-oh-SKOP-ik) (POL-ih-PEK-tuh-mee)

the removal of tumorlike growths called polyps by using a device inserted through a colonoscope.


a test to look into the rectum and colon that uses a long, flexible, narrow tube with a light and tiny camera on the end. The tube is called a colonoscope.

colon polyps
(KOH-lon) (POL-ips)

small, fleshy, mushroom-shaped growths in the colon.


see proctocolectomy.

colorectal cancer
(KOH-loh-REK-tuhl) (KAN-sur)

cancer that starts in the colon (also called the large intestine) or the rectum (the end of the large intestine). Several digestive diseases may increase a person's risk of colorectal cancer, including polyposis.

colorectal transit study
(KOH-loh-REK-tuhl) (TRAN-zit) (STUHD-ee)

a test that reveals how stool moves through the colon. The patient swallows capsules that contain small markers and an x ray tracks the movement of the capsules through the colon.


an operation that attaches the colon to an opening in the abdomen called a stoma. An ostomy pouch, attached to the stoma and worn outside the body, collects stool. A temporary colostomy may be created to allow the rectum to heal from injury or surgery.

common bile duct
(KOM-on) (byl) (duhkt)

the tube that carries bile from the liver to the small intestine.

common bile duct obstruction
(KOM-on) (byl) (duhkt) (ob-STRUHK-shuhn)

a blockage of the common bile duct, often caused by gallstones or cancer.

computerized tomography (CT) scan
(kom-PYOO-tur-eyezd) (toh-MOG-ruh-fee) (skan)

an x ray that produces pictures of the body. Also called a computed axial tomography (CAT) scan or computed tomography (CT) scan.


a condition in which a person usually has fewer than three bowel movements in a week. The bowel movements may be painful.


the ability to control the timing of urination or a bowel movement.

continent ileostomy
(KON-tih-nent) (IL-ee-OSS-tuh-mee)

an operation to create an internal pouch from part of the small intestine. Stool that collects in the pouch is removed by inserting a small tube through an opening made in the abdomen. See ileostomy.


medicines such as cortisone and hydrocortisone. These medicines reduce irritation from Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. They may be taken either by mouth or as suppositories. (Brand names: Cortone Acetate, Hydrocortone.)

Crohn's disease
(krohnz) (dih-ZEEZ)

a form of inflammatory bowel disease that causes irritation in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. It usually affects the lower small intestine (also called the ileum) or the colon, but it can also affect any part of the GI tract. Also called regional enteritis and ileitis. See inflammatory bowel disease and granuloma.


a parasite that can cause gastrointestinal infection and diarrhea. See gastroenteritis.

CT scan

see computerized tomography scan.


see cyclic vomiting syndrome.

cyclic vomiting syndrome (CVS)
(SIK-lik) (VOM-it-ing) (SIN-drohm)

sudden, repeated attacks of severe vomiting, nausea, and physical exhaustion with no apparent cause that occur in children and adults, but more often in children. Attacks can last from a few hours to 10 days. The episodes begin and end suddenly. Loss of fluids and changes in body chemicals can require immediate medical attention.

cystic duct
(SISS-tik) (duhkt)

the tube that carries bile from the gallbladder into the common bile duct.

cystic duct obstruction
(SISS-tik) (duhkt) (ob-STRUHK-shuhn)

a blockage of the cystic duct, often caused by gallstones.


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the passage of bowel contents through the rectum and anus.


an x-ray test of the anus and rectum that shows how the muscles work to move stool. The patient sits on a toilet placed next to the x-ray machine.


loss of fluids from the body, sometimes caused by diarrhea. It may result in the loss of important salts and minerals.

delayed gastric emptying
(duh-LAYD) (GASS-trik) (EMP-tee-ing)

see gastroparesis.

dermatitis herpetiformis
(DUR-muh-TY-tiss) (hur-PET-ih-FOR-miss)

a skin disorder associated with celiac disease and characterized by severe itching and blisters.

descending colon
(dee-SEND-ing) (KOH-lon)

the part of the colon where stool is stored. It is usually located on the left side of the abdomen.


the muscle wall between the chest and the abdomen. It is the major muscle used for breathing.


frequent, loose, and watery bowel movements. Common causes include gastrointestinal infections, irritable bowel syndrome, medicines, and malabsorption.


a nutrition expert who helps people plan what and how much food to eat.

Dieulafoy's lesion
(dyoo-lah-FWAHZ) (LEE-zhuhn)

a small erosion in the stomach that causes heavy gastrointestinal bleeding.

diffuse esophageal spasm
(dih-FYOOZ) (uh-SOF-uh-JEE-uhl) (SPA-zum)

uncoordinated contractions down the length of the esophagus that may cause pain or trouble swallowing.


medicines that aid or stimulate digestion. Examples are digestive enzymes for people with lactase deficiency or damage to the pancreas. (Brand names: Lactaid, Ultrase.)


the process the body uses to break down food into simple substances for energy, growth, and cell repair.

digestive system
(dy-JESS-tiv) (SISS-tuhm)

the organs in the body that break down and absorb food. Organs that make up the digestive system are the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, rectum, and anus. Organs that help with digestion but are not part of the digestive tract are the tongue, salivary glands, pancreas, liver, and gallbladder.

Drawing of the digestive system with the mouth; salivary glands; esophagus; liver; gallbladder; pancreas; stomach; duodenum; small intestine; colon, also called the large intestine; rectum; and anus labeled.
Digestive system.

digestive tract
(dy-JESS-tiv) (trakt)

see gastrointestinal tract.


bloating or swelling of the abdomen.


the plural form of diverticulum. See diverticulum.


a condition that occurs when small pouches in the colon called diverticula become inflamed.

Drawing of the colon and an enlargement of the colon showing diverticula with the colon, also called the large intestine, and diverticula labeled.


a condition that occurs when small pouches in the colon called diverticula push outward through weak spots.


a small pouch in the colon. These pouches are not painful and harmful unless they become inflamed.

dry mouth

see xerostomia.

Dubin-Johnson syndrome
(DOO-bin-JON-suhn) (SIN-drohm)

a rare, inherited form of chronic jaundice.

dumping syndrome
(DUHMP-ing) (SIN-drohm)

see rapid gastric emptying.

duodenal ulcer
(DOO-oh-DEE-nuhl) (UHL-sur)

an ulcer in the lining of the first part of the small intestine, also called the duodenum.


an irritation of the first part of the small intestine, also called the duodenum.


the first part of the small intestine.


an infectious disease of the colon. Symptoms include bloody, mucus-filled diarrhea; abdominal pain; fever; and loss of fluids from the body.


upper abdominal discomfort, often provoked by eating, that may be accompanied by fullness, bloating, nausea, or other gastrointestinal symptoms. Also called indigestion.


problems with swallowing food or liquid, usually caused by blockage or injury to the esophagus.

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Page last updated May 10, 2012

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