It’s a common occurrence: A patient comes in complaining of GI distress. Perhaps they or their child are experiencing heartburn, constipation, and abdominal pain or bloating. Upon diagnosis, you find no evidence of a disease or disorder that could cause these very real symptoms. In fact, the patient’s tests all come back normal.
Understandably, the patient may be confused. Surely their symptoms are a sign of something more serious? Explaining to them the difference between a functional and structural gastrointestinal disorder can help put them at ease and answer any questions they may have.
Functional disorders have persistent or recurring symptoms like pain and bloating, and diagnosis with tools such as endoscopies, blood tests, and diagnostic imaging shows no structural abnormalities or evidence of a disease or condition.
- Motility: There can be GI muscle spasms that cause pain.
- Sensation: The GI tract’s nerves don’t respond normally to stimuli like digestion, causing pain.
- Brain-gut dysfunction: The brain and the GI tract aren’t communicating normally.
Functional disorders include:
Treatments for functional disorders typically include lifestyle changes like eating healthy, exercising and stress management, along with frugal use of medication for their most disruptive symptoms. Over-medication can irritate hemorrhoids and in some cases like laxatives, can disrupt a patient’s body’s ability to absorb medication and nutrients.
As its name implies, a structural disorder is when an organ or other internal structure looks abnormal and does not work properly as a result. These are typically easy to identify and after a more in-depth diagnosis, doctors
Structural disorders include:
Treatments for structural disorders vary depending on diagnosis. For example, if a patient suffers from hemorrhoids, rubber band ligation and at home treatment can treat lower grade hemorrhoids while some patients benefit from surgery.