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Medical Terminology - Words to Know

Below is a list of common medical terms related to IBS.  Knowing these medical words can help make the conversations with your healthcare provider easier to understand.

Abdomen: area between the chest and the hips that contains the intestinal organs.

Acute: temporary.

Antidepressants: a group of drugs that, in IBS, may be used to reduce pain processing in the brain and bowel.

Antispasmodics: a group of drugs that may reduce muscle contractions in the GI tract.

Bloating: distension or a feeling of fullness in the abdomen.

Bowel: intestines.

Brain-gut axis: The continuous bi-directional flow of information and feedback that takes place between the gastrointestinal tract, and the brain and spinal cord (which together comprise the central nervous system).

Brain-gut connection: automatic cross-talk between the brain and the bowel.

Chronic: long term.

Colon: the large intestine/bowel.

Colonoscopy: exam of the inside of the colon using a flexible viewing instrument.

Comorbidity: Coexistence with another disease or condition.

Constipation: reduced stool frequency, or hard stools, difficulty passing stools, or painful bowel movements.

Cortisol: A hormone associated with the physical effects of the stress response within the body

Diarrhea: passing frequent, loose, or watery stools.

Digestion: The process by which food is converted into substances that can be absorbed and assimilated by the body.

Digestive tract: a group of hollow organs that forms a long, twisting tube extending from the mouth to the anus through which food is ingested, digested, and expelled.

Discomfort: an unpleasant feeling or sensation.

Disorder: A disturbance in regular or normal function. An abnormal condition.

Distension: an uncomfortable swelling in the intestines.

FODMAPs: A group of short-chain carbohydrates (Fermentable Oligo-saccharides, Di-saccharides, Mono-saccharides And Polyols).

Functional bowel disorder: A functional gastrointestinal disorder with symptoms attributable to the mid or lower gastrointestinal tract.  More commonly, a problem with the way the bowels work, not their structure

Gastroenterologist: a doctor who specializes in digestive diseases or disorders.

Gastrointestinal (GI) tract: the digestive tract.

Gut: Esophagus, stomach and intestines.

Hypersensitivity: An increased or amplified response to stimuli.

Incontinence: Involuntary leakage of liquid or solid stool, or gas.

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD): Long-lasting problems that cause irritation and ulcers in the gastrointestinal tract. The most common disorders are ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.

Irritable: overly-responsive nerves or muscles.

Large intestine: The long, tube-like organ that is connected to the small intestine at one end and the anus at the other. The large intestine has four parts: cecum, colon, rectum, and anal canal. Partly digested food moves through the cecum into the colon, where water and some nutrients and electrolytes are removed. The remaining material, solid waste called stool, moves through the colon, is stored in the rectum, and leaves the body through the anal canal and anus.

Laxative: A compound that increases fecal water content.

Lifestyle: a typical way of life, including things like diet, activities, environment, and habits.

Motility: Spontaneous movement. A term used to describe the motor activity of smooth muscles in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.

Nutrition: The taking in and use of food and other nourishing material by the body.

Pharmacokinetics: How the body handles a drug, including how it is absorbed, circulated, transformed, and eliminated.

Primary care physician: a doctor who can be seen without a referral, usually the primary, main, or first-contact doctor. May be referred to as a general practitioner or family practice physician.

Probiotics: Microbial cell preparations or components of microbial cells that have a beneficial effect on the health and well-being of the host. The World Health Organization defines probiotics as live microorganisms that can provide benefits to human health when administered in adequate amounts.

Quality of life: the feeling or perception of ability to meet daily needs, physical activities, well-being.

Rectum: The lower end of the large intestine, leading to the anus.

Registered GI Dietitian: An expert on diet and nutrition for patients suffering from GI disorders.

Rome criteria: Lists of symptoms and criteria generally agreed upon by experts to diagnosis a functional gastrointestinal disorder such as IBS.

Serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine, or 5-HT): A chemical neurotransmitter (a chemical that acts on the nervous system to help transmit messages along the nervous system). It is found in the intestinal wall and the central nervous system. More than 90% of the serotonin in the body resides in the gut.

Small intestine: The part of the digestive tract that is located between the stomach and the large intestine.

Soiling: staining or soiling undergarments with stool.

Syndrome: a set of symptoms that occur together in a pattern that indicates a certain disease.

Urgency: having very little time between feeling the urge to have a bowel movement and the need to pass stool.

Viscera: internal organs such as the intestines or bladder.

Visceral hypersensitivity: heightened perception or responsiveness within the bowel – even to normal events.

Find out more

View an in-depth glossary of GI terms here.

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