Medical Terminology for Common Gastrointestinal Conditions

By Beverley Henderson, Jennifer Lee Dorsey

Because the gastrointestinal system is made of many parts and, of course, the medical terms for them, it shouldn’t be a surprise that it can be prone to all sorts of ailments and maladies. Mouth conditions are some of the most obvious to the naked eye. Thankfully, two types of professionals can help find solutions to maladies of the mouth that affect mastication (chewing).

Ask any parent about your friendly, neighborhood orthodontist — she or he specializes in the correction of deformed, crooked, or maloccluded (crooked or misaligned) teeth. The periodontist specializes in diseases of the tissue around the teeth. Don’t forget the good old dentist, who takes care of dental issues; and the oral and maxillofacial surgeons who deal with dental and facial surgery to repair things like cleft palates and dental trauma.

Now, take a closer look at some of the conditions these specialists treat:

  • Aphthous stomatitis: Canker sores in mouth

  • Bruxism: Grinding teeth involuntarily, often while sleeping

  • Cleft palate: Congenital split in the roof of the mouth or upper lip

  • Dental caries: Cavities in the teeth (caries means “decay”)

  • Dysphasia: Difficulty speaking

  • Edentulous: Without teeth

  • Gingivitis: Inflammation of gums

  • Halitosis: Bad breath

  • Herpes simplex: Cold sore or fever blister on lip or nose due to herpes virus

  • Leukoplakia: White plaques or patches of mouth mucosa

  • Sublingual: Under the tongue

Your baby teeth are also called the primary teeth. Your first teeth (20 in all) include 8 incisors, 4 cuspids, and 8 molars. Your permanent teeth number 32, with 8 incisors, 8 premolars, 4 canines, and 12 molars.

The esophagus is the next stop on your tour of gastrointestinal conditions. Many of the following conditions result in discomfort both in swallowing (deglutition) and in the digestion process:

  • Aphagia: Inability to swallow

  • Dysphagia: Difficulty swallowing

  • Esophageal varices: Just like varicose veins in the legs; boggy veins with inefficient valves that allow venous backflow, resulting in stagnant blood in bulging veins

  • Esophagitis: Inflammation of the esophagus

  • Heartburn: Burning sensation caused by reflux or flowing back of acid from the stomach into esophagus

To keep dysphasia and dysphagia straight, remember the s in dysphasia for “speak,” and the g in dysphagia for “gag.”

Moving south, you find the stomach, an area full of possibility when it comes to conditions. Gastroenterology is the study of the stomach and intestines, and a gastroenterologist is the physician who treats conditions of the stomach and intestines.

Many of the conditions that eventually affect the esophagus or intestines start in the stomach. So, have your antacids ready for these:

  • Dyspepsia: Difficult digestion

  • Emesis (vomiting): Stomach contents expelled through the mouth

  • Eructation: Act of belching or raising gas from stomach

  • Gastric ulcer: Lesion on wall of stomach; also known as peptic ulcer

  • Gastritis: Inflammation of the stomach

  • Gastrodynia: Pain in the stomach

  • Hematemesis: Vomiting of blood

  • Hiatal hernia: Protrusion of part of the stomach through the esophageal opening into diaphragm

  • Hyperemesis: Excessive vomiting

  • Nasogastric: Pertaining to nose and stomach

  • Nausea: Urge to vomit

  • Regurgitation: Return of solids and fluids to mouth from stomach

  • Ulcer: Sore or lesion of mucous membrane or skin

The liver, pancreas, and gallbladder all experience their own specific conditions, the most common of which is good, old-fashioned, often-painful gallstones.

  • Calculus (plural is calculi): Stones

  • Cholelithiasis: Condition of having gallstones

  • Duodenal ulcer: Erosion or ulceration in the lining of the duodenum (first portion of the small intestine)

  • Gallstones: Hard collections of bile that form in gallbladder and bile ducts

  • Hepatomegaly: Enlargement of liver

  • Hepatoma: Tumor of liver

All the twists and turns of both the large and small intestines can make for some interesting and often complicated conditions. The sheer length of these organs makes diagnosis and treatment a long and winding road. Start the journey with these intestinal conditions:

  • Ascites: Abnormal accumulation of fluid in peritoneal cavity caused by cirrhosis, tumors, and infection

  • Borborygmus: Rumbling, gurgling sound made by movement of gas in intestine

  • Cathartic: Strong laxative

  • Colonic polyposis: Polyps, small growths protruding from mucous membrane of colon

  • Constipation: Difficult or delayed defecation caused by low peristalsis movement, over-absorption of water as contents sit too long in the intestine, or by dehydration

  • Diarrhea: Frequent discharge of liquid stool (feces)

  • Diverticula: Abnormal side pockets in hollow structure, such as intestine, sigmoid colon, and duodenum

  • Flatus: Gas expelled through the anus

  • Hemorrhoids: Swollen or twisted veins either outside or just inside the anus

  • Hernia: A protrusion of an organ or part through the wall of the cavity that contains it

  • Ileus: Intestinal obstruction that can be caused by failure of peristalsis following surgery, hernia, tumor, adhesions, and often by peritonitis

  • Inguinal hernia: A small loop of bowel protruding through a weak place in the inguinal ring, an opening in the lower abdominal wall, which allows blood vessels to pass into the scrotum

  • Intussusception: Telescoping of the intestine; common in children

  • Laxative: Medication encouraging movement of feces

  • Melena: Black stool; feces containing blood

  • Polyposis: Condition of polyps in the intestinal wall

  • Pruritus ani: Intense itching of the anal area

  • Steatorrhea: Excessive fat in feces

  • Volvulus: Twisting of intestine upon itself