Term of the Day

Occult Bleeding

Blood in the stool that is not visible to the naked eye. May be a sign of disease such as diverticulosis or colorectal cancer.


  • Absorption

    The way nutrients from food move from the small intestine into the cells of the body.

  • Acidosis

    A disturbance in the acid-base balance of the body in which there is an accumulation of acids or an excessive loss of bicarbonate.

  • Acute

    A disorder that is sudden and severe but lasts only a short time.

  • Anal Fissure

    Crack or split on the mucous membrane of the anus.

  • Anorectal

    Relating both to the anus and the rectum.

  • Antidiarrheals

    Medicines that help control diarrhea. An example is loperamide.

  • Anus

    The lower opening of the digestive tract, lying between the buttocks.

  • Ascending Colon

    The part of the colon on the right side of the abdomen. Runs from the cecum to the transverse colon.

  • Ascites

    A buildup of fluid in the abdomen.

  • Asymptomatic

    The condition of having a disease, but without symptoms of it.

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  • Barium

    A chalky liquid used to coat the inside of organs so that they will show up on the x-ray.

  • Barium Enema X-Ray

    Also, Lower GI Series. X-rays of the rectum, colon and lower part of the small intestine. A barium enema is given first. Barium coats the organs so they will show up on the x-ray.

  • Bile

    Fluid made by the liver and stored in the gallbladder. Bile helps break down fats and gets rid of wastes in the body.

  • Bisacodyl

    A stimulant laxative that speeds up how fast a stool moves through the intestines.

  • Bowel

    The intestine.

  • Bowel Movement

    Body wastes passing through the rectum and anus.

  • Bowel Prep

    The process used to clean the colon with enemas, cathartics or special drinks. Used before surgery of the colon, colonoscopy or barium x-ray. (See also Lavage.)

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  • Cathartic

    Bowel evacuant, specifically one taken orally.

  • Cecum

    The first portion of the large intestine, lying just beyond the ileocecal valve and between the small intestine and the ascending colon.

  • Chronic

    A term that refers to disorders that last a long time, often years.

  • Chyme

    A thick liquid made of partially digested food and stomach juices. This liquid is made in the stomach and moves into the small intestine for further digestion.

  • Colectomy

    An operation to remove all or part of the colon.

  • Colitis

    Inflammation of the colon.

  • Colon

    (See Large Intestine.)

  • Colonoscope

    An elongated, flexible, fiberoptic endoscope that allows visual examination of the entire colon.

  • Colonoscopic Polypectomy

    The removal of tumor-like growths (polyps) using a device inserted through a colonoscope.

  • Colorectal Cancer

    Also, Colon Cancer. Cancer that occurs in the colon or the rectum.

  • Colostomy

    The surgical creation of an opening between the colon and body surface.

  • Computed Tomography

    An x-ray that produces three-dimensional pictures of the body. Also known as computed axial tomography (CAT) scan.

  • Constipation

    A condition in which bowel movements are painful or difficult and are less frequent or smaller in quantity than normal.

  • Crohn's Disease

    A chronic form of inflammatory bowel disease. Crohn’s disease causes severe irritation in the gastrointestinal tract. Also called enteritis and ilieitis. (See also Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD).)

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  • Defecation

    The discharge of excrement from the rectum.

  • Dehydration

    Loss of fluids from the body, often caused by diarrhea. May result in the loss of important salts and minerals.

  • Descending Colon

    The part of the colon where stool is stored. Located on the left side of the abdomen.

  • Diarrhea

    Frequent, loose and watery bowel movements. Common causes include gastrointestinal infections, irritable bowel syndrome, medicines and malabsorption.

  • Digestion

    The process the body uses to break down food into simple substances for energy, growth and cell repair.

  • Digestive System

    The system by which ingested food is acted upon by physical and chemical means to provide the body with absorbable nutrients and to excrete waste products.

  • Diverticulitis

    Inflammation of a diverticulum, occurring when one of the small pockets in the wall of the colon fills with stagnant fecal material.

  • Diverticulosis

    A condition that occurs when small pouches (diverticula) push outward through weak spots in the colon.

  • Duodenum

    The first part of the small intestine.

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  • Electrocautery

    A procedure that uses an electrical current passed through an endoscope to stop bleeding in the digestive tract and to remove affected tissue.

  • Electrolytes

    Chemicals such as salts and minerals needed for various functions of the body.

  • Endoscope

    A small, flexible tube with a light and a lens on the end. It is used to look into the esophagus, stomach, duodenum, colon or rectum. It can also be used to take tissue from the body for testing or to take color photographs of the inside of the body. Colonoscopes and sigmoidoscopes are types of endoscopes.

  • Endoscopy

    A procedure that uses an endoscope to diagnose or treat a condition.

  • Enema

    A liquid bowel evacuant, administered rectally.

  • Enteritis

    Inflammation of the intestine.

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  • Fecal

    Relating to feces.

  • Feces

    The matter discharged from the bowel during defecation.

  • Fermentation

    The process of bacteria breaking down undigested food and releasing alcohols, acids and gases.

  • Fistula

    An abnormal passage between two organs or between an organ and the outside of the body. Caused when damaged tissues come into contact with each other and join together while healing.

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  • Gastric Juices

    Liquids produced in the stomach to help break down food and kill bacteria.

  • Gastroenterologist

    A doctor who specializes in digestive diseases.

  • Gastroenterology

    The field of medicine concerned with the function and disorders of the digestive system.

  • Gastrointestinal - Gastroenteric

    Relating to both stomach and intestines.

  • Gluten

    A mixture of plant proteins found in cereal grains such as corn and wheat, and that gives dough its cohesiveness. Sensitivity to gluten can cause damage to the intestines.

  • Glycerin

    A colorless, odorless, viscous liquid that is a fast-acting stimulant laxative with an osmotic effect.

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  • Hemorrhoids

    Swollen blood vessels in and around the anus and lower rectum. Continual straining to have a bowel movement causes them to stretch and swell. They cause itching, pain and sometimes bleeding.

  • Hirschsprung's Disease

    A birth defect in which some nerve cells are lacking in the large intestine. The intestine cannot move stool through, so the intestine gets blocked, causing the abdomen to swell. (See also Megacolon.)

  • Hydrated

    Full of water.

  • Hypernatremia

    An excess of sodium in the blood.

  • Hyperphosphatemia

    An excess of phosphate in the blood.

  • Hypertonic

    Having a greater degree of ions, denoting that one of two solutions possesses the greater osmotic pressure.

  • Hypocalcemia

    Reduction of blood calcium level.

  • Hypokalemia

    Reduction of blood potassium level.

  • Hypotonicity

    State of being hypotonic (less osmotic pressure).

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  • Ileum

    The lower end of the small intestine.

  • Ileus

    Obstruction of the small intestine.

  • Impaction

    A condition in which feces in the bowel are compressed so as to be immovable.

  • Imperforate Anus

    A birth defect in which the anal canal fails to develop.

  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

    Long-lasting problems that cause irritation and ulcers in the GI tract. The most common disorders are ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.

  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

    A disorder that comes and goes. Nerves that control the muscles in the GI tract are too active. The GI tract becomes sensitive to food, stool, gas and stress. Causes abdominal pain, bloating and constipation or diarrhea. Also called spastic colon or mucous colitis.

  • Irritant Cathartic

    A stimulant cathartic.

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  • Jejunum

    The middle section of the small intestine between the duodenum and ileum.

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  • Large Intestine

    The part of the intestine that goes from the cecum to the rectum. The large intestine absorbs water from stool and changes it from a liquid to a solid form. The large intestine is five feet long and includes the appendix, cecum, colon and rectum. Also called colon.

  • Lavage

    A cleaning of the stomach and colon.

  • Laxative

    A bowel evacuant; a mild cathartic.

  • Lumen

    The space inside a tubular structure, such as the intestine.

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  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

    A test that takes pictures of the soft tissues of the body. The pictures are clearer than x-rays.

  • Malabsorption

    Conditions that happen when the small intestine cannot absorb nutrients from foods.

  • Mallory-Weiss Tear

    A tear in the lower end of the esophagus. Caused by severe vomiting.

  • Megacolon

    A huge, swollen colon. Results from severe constipation. (See also Hirschsprung’s Disease.)

  • Mineral Oil

    Mineral oil (liquid petrolatum) coats and softens stool, and is a key ingredient in lubricant laxatives.

  • Motility

    The movement of food through the digestive tract.

  • Mucosa

    Membrane lining a body passage or cavity, such as the intestine; produces a secretion that moistens and protects the organ.

  • Mucus

    A clear liquid made by the intestines. Mucus coats and protects the tissues of the GI tract.

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  • Occult Bleeding

    Blood in the stool that is not visible to the naked eye. May be a sign of disease such as diverticulosis or colorectal cancer.

  • Osmosis

    The phenomenon of the passage of certain fluids and solutions through a membrane or other porous substance.

  • Osmotic Effect

    An effect that causes the intestines to pull water back into the colon and hold it in the intestines, softening stools so they’re easier to pass.

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  • Peristalsis

    The wormlike movement of the intestine or other tubular structure; a wave of alternate circular contraction and relaxation of the tube by which the contents are propelled onward.

  • Polyp

    Tissue bulging from the surface of an organ. Although these growths are not normal, they often are not cause for concern. However, people who have polyps in the colon may have an increased risk of colorectal cancer.

  • Polyposis

    The presence of many polyps.

  • Proctoscopy

    Inspection of the lower part of the intestine with a proctoscope.

  • Proctosigmoidoscope

    A rectal speculum, usually 25 cm in length, used to view the rectum and sigmoid colon. Often synonymous with proctoscope or sigmoidoscope.

  • Proctosigmoidoscopy

    Direct inspection through a proctosigmoidoscope of the rectum and sigmoid colon.

  • Pruritis


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  • Rectum

    The terminal portion of the digestive tube, extending from the sigmoid colon to the anal canal.

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  • Saline Cathartic

    A cathartic containing salts that attract water into the intestinal lumen, stimulating peristalsis indirectly.

  • Sigmoid Colon

    The part of the colon distal to the descending colon, which usually makes several turns roughly resembling the letter “S” and terminates in the rectum.

  • Sigmoidoscope

    An endoscope for direct examination of the interior of the colon.

  • Sigmoidoscopy

    Looking into the sigmoid colon and rectum with a flexible or rigid tube, called a sigmoidoscope.

  • Small Intestine

    Organ where most digestion occurs. It measures about 20 feet and includes the duodenum, jejunum and ileum.

  • Sphincter

    A circular muscle that serves, when in a state of normal contraction, to close one of the orifices of the body.

  • Stimulant Cathartic

    A cathartic that stimulates peristalsis by irritation of the intestinal mucosa or by some selective action on the nerve plexus or the smooth muscle of the intestinal wall.

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  • Volvulus

    A twisting of the stomach or large intestine. May be caused by the stomach being in the wrong position, a foreign substance or abnormal joining of one part of the stomach or intestine to another. Volvulus can lead to blockage, perforation, peritonitis and poor blood flow.

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