Digestive and Liver Disorders Overview
What is digestion?
Food and drink must be changed into smaller molecules of nutrients to be absorbed
into the blood and carried to cells throughout the body. Digestion is the process
by which food and drink are broken down into smaller parts so that the body can use
them to build and nourish cells, and to provide energy.
How does the digestive process work?
The mixing of food with digestive juices
The movement of food through the digestive tract
A chemical breakdown of large molecules of food into smaller molecules so the body
can use them to nourish cells and provide energy
Digestion begins in the mouth, where food and drink is taken in, and is completed
in the small intestine.
What is included in the digestive system?
The digestive tract is a series of hollow organs joined in a long, twisting tube from
the mouth to the anus, consisting of the following:
Organs that help with digestion, but are not part of the digestive tract, include
Parts of other organ systems, like nerves and blood, also play a major role in the
How does food move through the digestive system?
In a wave-like movement, called peristalsis, muscles propel food and liquid along
the digestive tract.
What changes occur in the digestive system during pregnancy?
Hormones of pregnancy can affect the digestive system. The hormone progesterone, which
causes smooth muscle relaxation, often causes relaxation and slowing of digestion
in the stomach and the small and large intestines. The gallbladder is also affected
with delayed emptying that can increase the chances of gallstone formation. Many of
the digestive discomforts of pregnancy, such as morning sickness (nausea or vomiting),
constipation, and heartburn are all related to the relaxed tone and slowed action
of the digestive system.
The growing uterus itself can affect the digestive system. As the uterus grows, it
can press on or even block parts of the digestive tract. This can lead to slowed movement
of food and constipation. Increasing fluids, regular exercise, and increasing the
fiber in your diet are some of the ways to prevent constipation. Always consult your health
care provider before taking any medication for this condition.
Many women have appetite changes in pregnancy, including increased hunger, decreased
appetite, cravings, aversions, nausea, and vomiting. A few women develop pica, a rare
craving to eat substances other than food, such as dirt, clay, or coal. The craving
may indicate a nutritional deficiency.