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Introduction to Diagnosis of Digestive Disorders

By Walter W. Chan, MD, MPH

Disorders that affect the digestive (gastrointestinal) system are called digestive disorders. Some disorders simultaneously affect several parts of the digestive system, whereas others affect only one part or organ.

Based on the findings of the medical history, physical examination (see page Medical History and Physical Examination for Digestive Disorders), and, if applicable, psychologic evaluation (see page Medical History and Physical Examination for Digestive Disorders : Psychologic Evaluation), doctors choose appropriate tests. Tests done on the digestive system make use of endoscopes (flexible tubes that doctors use to view internal structures and to obtain tissue samples from inside the body—see page Endoscopy, see page Intubation of the Digestive Tract, and see page Laparoscopy), x-rays (see page X-Ray Studies) and other imaging techniques (see page Computed Tomography and Magnetic Resonance Imaging), ultrasound scans (see page Ultrasound Scanning (Ultrasonography)), tiny amounts of radioactive materials (see page Nuclear Scans), video capsule endoscopy (see page Video Capsule Endoscopy), needles (see page Paracentesis), pressure gauges (see page Manometry), and chemical measurements (see page Acid-Related and Reflux-Related Tests and see page Stool Occult Blood Tests). These tests can help a doctor locate, diagnose, and sometimes treat a problem. Some tests require the digestive system to be cleared of stool, some require 8 to 12 hours of fasting, and others require no preparation.

Although diagnostic tests can be very useful in diagnosing the presence or absence of certain medical disorders, they can also be quite expensive and, in rare cases, cause bleeding or injury. It is important to discuss risks and benefits of a test with the doctor.

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