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Digestive System Signs and Symptoms Medical Terminology

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Health Literacy and Digestive System Diseases’ Signs and Symptoms

Diseases of the digestive tract are common. Therefore, knowledge of the more common digestive system signs and symptoms medical terminology is an important part of health literacy. It can aid in recognizing the need for professional evaluation and treatment. Prompt actions resulting from a recognized need can prevent undesirable consequences and promote better health care outcomes. Listed below are medical terms and definitions of signs and symptoms of the more common digestive system diseases. To enhance your learning experience you can hear the correct pronunciation of the terms in bold font in the order in which they appear. Just click the play button below.

Medical Terminology 


Anorexia – A poor appetite, regardless of the cause. It is often due to a disease which can be physical or mental 

Ascites – It is an abnormal collection of fluid in the abdominal cavity.  More specifically, it is in the peritoneal cavity.  Cirrhosis commonly causes it, but other causes include congestive heart failure, some cancers and low protein states due to excessive loss of protein from the kidneys or intestinal tract.  In addition to swelling of the abdomen a fluid wave might be present on physical examination. 

Constipation – It is less frequent, hard, dry, painful and/or difficult to pass bowel movements.  digestive system signs and symptoms

Diarrhea – It is loose or watery bowel movements.  

Dysphagia – It is difficulty swallowing. It is generally the result of a problem in the esophagus or throat.  It is important to state whether the problem occurs with solid food, liquids, or both.  

Esophageal varices – Large congested veins in the esophagus resulting from portal hypertensionCirrhosis is the most common cause.

Flatus – It is gas expelled from the digestive tract through the rectum. 

Fluid wave – It is a positive physical sign of ascites.  The test for it is performed with a patient lying flat on the back and facing upward (supine).  It consists of the examiner or the patient placing the side of the hand opposite the thumb in a wedge-like position in the middle of the abdomen and applying slight pressure downward.  The examiner then taps one side of the abdomen just below the ribs but above the hip (flank) while placing the other hand in the same location on the opposite side of the body.  If the tap can be felt on the opposite side the fluid wave test is positive.  The positive test is the result of the fluid being pushed from one side of the abdomen to the other during tapping.

Heartburn (pyrosis) – It is a burning pain beneath and/or behind the breastbone (sternum) usually associated with regurgitation of stomach juices into the esophagus ± the throat.    It is the primary symptom of GERD.  It tends to be more frequent and severe if eating occurs in close proximity to going to bed.  Nighttime symptoms can be oftentimes lessened by elevating the head.  

Hematemesis – It is the vomiting of blood.  If the vomitus has a coffee-ground appearance it is appropriate to assume that the bleeding is in the esophagus, stomach or the duodenum.  The coffee ground appearance is the result of the action of hydrochloric acid from the stomach on the iron within the red blood cells.  

Hematochezia – It is the passage of blood in the stool during a bowel movement.  The cause is usually bleeding from the colon or rectum.  

Jaundice – It is yellow discoloration of the skin and the whites of the eyes (sclerae) resulting from the deposition of bilirubin in those tissues.  The deposition is due to improper disposal of bilirubin by the liver.  The disposal problem can be the result of damage to liver cells caused as a consequence of hepatitis or cirrhosis.  It can also be due to blockage of a duct or ducts which drain bilirubin from the liver into the intestines where it is subsequently eliminated from the body during bowel movements.  

MelenaIt is black tar-like stool due to bleeding from the esophagus, stomach or duodenum.  The cause of the black appearance is the alteration of blood by the digestive juices of the upper intestinal tract.  

Nausea – It is an unpleasant feeling in the stomach associated with an impulse to vomit.  

Obstipation – It is severe constipation due to obstruction of the intestinal tract.  

Rebound tenderness – It is the abdominal tenderness noticed when direct pressure applied to the abdomen is released. The degree of pain experienced with rebound tenderness is greater than that perceived with direct pressure.  It is an indicator of inflammation of the peritoneum.  

Singultus – Hiccup.  

Steatorrhea – It is excessive fat in the stool. It results from malabsorption of fat from the digestive tract. It causes stools to be frothy, foul-smelling and floating. 

Vomiting – It is the ejection of contents from the stomach through the esophagus and mouth.  It is usually involuntary and due to illness.  But can be self-induced.




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