What are Functional GastroIntestinal Disorders? Here’s What You Should Know

Have you ever seen blood on your stool? Do you frequently feel abdominal pain? Found yourself feeling more nauseous these days? These are just some of the common symptoms of gastrointestinal (GI) disorders. 

Diseases that affect the digestive system — a network of organs whose main role is to process the food we eat — can be functional or structural. Unlike the latter (which are caused by structural or tissue abnormality like mass or tumor), functional GI disorders or FGID don’t have distinguishable biomarkers. This group of diseases is only characterized by recurring symptoms. 

Diagnosing GI Disorders

Around 25 million people in the US are estimated to have an FGID. Among them, at least 20 percent have not sought medical attention despite the frequency of experiencing the disorders’ symptoms. 

If a patient consults a doctor, it is still quite challenging to properly diagnose his or her condition. As FGIDs don’t involve structural abnormalities, even if routine tests are utilized, the majority of the results will be negative. 

Thanks to the extensive body of research done by medical experts, a set of symptom-based criteria have been developed. Dubbed “Rome Criteria,” this reference help doctors assess the condition of their patients. 

Common FGIDs

Based on the Rome Criteria, here are some of the most common functional gastrointestinal disorders

Functional Esophageal Disorders

– Functional chest pain

– Functional dysphagia (difficulty in swallowing)

– Globus (tightness in throat)

– Functional heartburn (persistent burning sensation)

Functional Abdominal Pain

Functional Bowel Disorders

– Functional constipation (infrequent defecation that produces dry and small stools)

– Functional diarrhea (frequent defecation that produces watery stools)

– Irritable bowel syndrome (presence of abdominal pain during defecation)

Functional Gastroduodenal Disorder

– Functional dyspepsia (pain in upper abdomen)

– Aerophagia (repetitive or excessive air swallowing)

– Chronic nausea and vomiting disorders

– Rumination syndrome (regurgitation of food that’s been recently swallowed)

Functional gallbladder and Sphincter of Oddi (SO) Disorders

– Gallbladder disorder

– Biliary SO disorder

– Pancreatic SO disorder

Functional Anorectal Disorders 

– Fecal incontinence (repetitive, uncontrolled passage of fecal material)

– Functional anorectal pain (discomfort in the rectum or anal area)

— Functional defecation disorders (inadequate defecatory propulsion)

Childhood Functional Disorders

– Infant regurgitation (involuntary)

– Infant rumination syndrome (voluntary and habitual regurgitation)

– Infant colic (long period of crying without evident reason)

– Infant dyschezia (crying and straining during defecation)

Treating FGIDs

Getting diagnosed is a crucial stepping stone in curing functional gastrointestinal disorders. Honestly telling your symptoms and experiences to your doctor will be significantly helpful in coming up with a treatment plan that’s appropriate for you. 

Typically, below are the treatment options offered by medical experts:

Pharmacologic Treatment. Depending on the type of FGID you’re diagnosed with, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics and pain medications. 

Dietary Intervention. What you eat and drink has a huge impact on the health condition of your digestive system. To treat FGIDs, you will need to implement some dietary changes guided by a registered dietitian. He or she may advise you to reduce intake of sugar-laden food and alcohol. 

Stress Management. FGIDs aren’t directly caused by stress, but stress can worsen the symptoms that you have. Knowing how to properly handle stress can help you maintain a healthy, FGID-free lifestyle.

With functional gastrointestinal disorders, the GI tract appears normal but isn’t working properly. There are a lot of factors in play and it will be best to consult your doctor for early diagnosis and treatment.