Each year, millions of Americans are diagnosed with digestive disorders, ranging from the occasional upset stomach to the more life-threatening colorectal cancer. They encompass disorders of the gastrointestinal tract, as well as the liver, gallbladder, and pancreas.
About 90 million people in the United States are affected by all digestive problems. Digestive disorders account for more than 104 million physician office visits per year. In 2004, digestive disorders totaled more than $141 billion in medical costs.
Most digestive diseases are very complex, with subtle symptoms, and the causes of many remain unknown. They may be inherited, or develop from multiple factors such as stress, fatigue, diet, or smoking. Abusing alcohol imposes the greatest risk for digestive diseases.
Reaching a diagnosis requires a thorough and accurate medical history and physical examination. Some patients may need to undergo more extensive diagnostic evaluations, including lab tests, endoscopic procedures, and imaging techniques. Physicians who specialize in the treatment of digestive problems are called gastroenterologists.