The intestines are a long, continuous tube running from the stomach to the anus. Most absorption of nutrients and water happen in the intestines. The intestines include the small intestine, large intestine, and rectum.

The small intestine (small bowel) is about 20 feet long and about an inch in diameter. Velvety tissue lines the small intestine, which is divided into the duodenum, jejunum, and ileum. The main functions of the small intestine is to absorb most of the nutrients from what we eat and drink that is to complete digestion of food and to absorb nutrients. Concerning absorption, carbohydrates and proteins are absorbed in the duodenum and jejunum respectively. The jejunum also functions to absorb most fats. The ileum function involves absorption of vitamin B12, bile salts and all digestion products which were not absorbed in duodenum and jejunum. All three small intestine segments absorb water and electrolytes.

The large intestine (colon or large bowel) is about 5 feet long and about 3 inches in diameter. The colon absorbs water from wastes, creating stool. As stool enters the rectum, nerves there create the urge to defecate. The large intestine is responsible for several major functions: absorption of electrolytes (sodium, potassium, chloride) and water (1L/day), propulsion of intestinal contents, and the formation, temporary storage and defecation of feces. The large intestine houses the physiological microflora, which is rich in anaerobic bacteria (approx. 1011/g) that live in symbiosis with the human body. They fulfill essential functions such as decomposing indigestible food ingredients (e.g. cellulose), producing vitamin K, promoting intestinal peristalsis and supporting the immune system.

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Intestine Conditions

  • Stomach flu (enteritis): Inflammation of the small intestine. Infections (from viruses, bacteria, or parasites) are the common cause.
  • Celiac disease: An "allergy" to gluten (a protein in most breads) causes the small intestine not to absorb nutrients properly. Abdominal pain and weight loss are usual symptoms.
  • Carcinoid tumor: A benign or malignant growth in the small intestine. Diarrhea and skin flushing are the most common symptoms.
  • Intestinal obstruction: A section of either the small or large bowel can become blocked or twisted or just stop working. Belly distension, pain, constipation, and vomiting are symptoms.
  • Colitis: Inflammation of the colon. Inflammatory bowel disease or infections are the most common causes.
  • Diverticulitis: When diverticuli become inflamed or infected, diverticulitis results. Abdominal pain and constipation are common symptoms.
  • Colon bleeding (hemorrhage): Multiple potential colon problems can cause bleeding. Rapid bleeding is visible in the stool, but very slow bleeding might not be.
  • Inflammatory bowel disease: A name for either Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis. Both conditions can cause colon inflammation (colitis).
  • Crohn's disease: An inflammatory condition that usually affects the colon and intestines. Abdominal pain and diarrhea (which may be bloody) are symptoms.
  • Ulcerative colitis: An inflammatory condition that usually affects the colon and rectum. Like Crohn's disease, bloody diarrhea is a common symptom of ulcerative colitis.
  • Diarrhea: Stools that are frequent, loose, or watery are commonly called diarrhea. Most diarrhea is due to self-limited, mild infections of the colon or small intestine.
  • Traveler's diarrhea: Many different bacteria commonly contaminate water or food in developing countries. Loose stools, sometimes with nausea and fever, are symptoms.
  • Colon polyps: Polyps are growths inside the colon.  Colon cancer can often develop in these tumors after many years. 
  • Rectal cancer: Colon and rectal cancer are similar in prognosis and treatment. Doctors often consider them together as colorectal cancer.
  • Constipation: When bowel movements are infrequent or difficult. 
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): Irritable bowel syndrome, also known as IBS, is an intestinal disorder that causes irritable abdominal pain or discomfort, cramping or bloating, and diarrhea or constipation.
  • Rectal prolapse: Part or all of the wall of the rectum can move out of position, sometimes coming out of the anus, when straining during a bowel movement.
  • Intussusception: Occurring mostly in children, the small intestine can collapse into itself like a telescope. It can become life-threatening if not treated.
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