The three most frequent gastrointestinal motility disorders are: gastroesophageal reflux, functional dyspepsia and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The treatment is based on drugs and reducing the intake of fats.
Gastrointestinal motility refers to the movements of the digestive system. This is one of the main functions of the digestive tract (or gastrointestinal tract), i.e. the propulsion or transit of food or digested food products from ingestion through the mouth until its removal from the body, through defecation.
Alterations in gastrointestinal motility can produce multiple symptoms in different parts of the digestive system, such as difficulty in swallowing food, prolonged retention of food in the stomach, diarrhoea or constipation, and even bowel incontinence.
Types of gastrointestinal motility disorders
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD): characterised by the return of the stomach contents to the oesophagus. This is caused when the lower oesophageal sphincter, the valve that sits between the oesophagus and the stomach and which also affects motility or movement in the oesophagus develops a problem closing.
- Functional dyspepsia: usually these patients suffer from problems in the emptying of the stomach and the ability of this organ to accommodate food after a meal.
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): can manifest as diarrhoea or chronic constipation. Other symptoms include cramping, abdominal pain, gas and bloating.
Medical treatment of gastrointestinal motility disorders
The cornerstone of the treatment of motility disorders of the gastrointestinal tract are the drugs known as prokinetics. These have the function of accelerating or decelerating the movement of food material in different segments of the digestive tract. These medications can be used in oesophageal reflux disease, dyspepsia and irritable bowel syndrome. In addition, doctors often recommend that patients change their diet and take care what they eat, usually with a reduction in the consumption of fatty acids.
Other conditions that can cause gastrointestinal motility disorders
There are some diseases and medications that cause susceptibility to gastrointestinal motility disorders in some patients.
Those susceptible to gastrointestinal motility disorders are patients suffering from diseases that secondarily affect the digestive tract, a typical example being diabetes. Long-term diabetes affects neurological (brain) activity, which regulates gastrointestinal tract motility, and consequently, diabetics more frequently suffer from gastrointestinal motility disorders. Less frequently, there are rheumatic disorders such as progressive systemic sclerosis and lupus erythematosus that also produce alterations in gastrointestinal motility.
Diseases of the central nervous system can alter gastrointestinal motility and more frequently, some drugs used in clinical practice, such as antidepressants and anticholinergics may also cause alterations.
If you are experiencing symptoms of any gastrointestinal motility disorders, consult your GP or a specialist.