Digestive Health

Digestive Health Testing and health information

Order gastrointestinal diagnostic tests with Ulta Lab Tests to evaluate the health of your GI tract and digestive issues. Learn about your health today!

Name Matches

Most Popular

Most Popular

Most Popular

Did you know that each year, 62 million Americans are diagnosed with digestive disorders? And 20 million Americans have chronic digestive diseases, with 25% of digestive diseases requiring surgery.

Your digestive health is key to your overall well-being, and digestive health lab tests are essential tools to maintaining your health.

Don't ignore your health. Your body speaks to you through its symptoms. If you're concerned you might have a digestive order, then keep reading this guide to learn what you need to know about digestive disorders and digestive health lab tests. 

What are Digestive Disorders

Digestive orders are conditions that affect the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. The GI tract comprises your gallbladder, pancreas, esophagus, liver, stomach, small and large intestines. 

The most common digestive orders include irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, and colon cancer.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common and chronic disorder that can affect your digestive tract. Only a small amount of people with IBS have severe signs and symptoms. Typically, IBS doesn't cause changes in your intestinal tissue or increase your risk for colon cancer.

Symptoms vary but usually include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Cramping
  • Bloating
  • Changes in stool appearance

Causes usually include infections or exposure to extremely stressful events, especially during childhood. 

Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a group of disorders that cause chronic inflammation and damage to your digestive tract. The two main types of  IBD are ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. 

Ulcerative colitis involves ulcers and inflammation along the superficial lining of your large intestine and rectum. 

Crohn's disease involves inflammation of the lining of your digestive tract. Crohn's disease can happen anywhere along your digestive tract and often skips certain areas while affecting others. The inflammation from Crohn's disease often involves deeper layers of your digestive tract. 

Symptoms of IBD vary, depending on the severity of the inflammation. But most of the time, both Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis cause:

  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Rectal bleeding.

The exact cause of IBD isn't known, but one of the main causes is thought to be an immune system malfunction. When you have an abnormal immune response, your immune system goes on the attack causing inflammation and symptoms of IBD.

Colon Cancer

Colon cancer is cancer that usually begins in the large intestine or colon area. Colon cancer usually affects older adults, but it happens at any age.

Colon cancer typically begins with small, noncancerous cells clump together and form polyps that attach to the colon's lining. Over time these polyps can grow into colon cancers, especially if you don't get regular colonoscopies and don't have them removed. For this reason, regular screenings for colon cancer are essential.

Colon cancer symptoms usually include a change in your stools like diarrhea or constipation. Other symptoms include rectal bleeding, abdominal pain, and unexplained weight loss. 

If you get colon cancer, there are many treatments available to control it, like surgery, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, and chemotherapy.

Other Digestive Disorders

Other digestive disorders involve the other organs that are a part of your digestive process. Other digestive diseases include:

  • Gallstones and cholecystitis
  • Celiac disease
  • Pancreatitis
  • Liver problems like hepatitis and liver failure
  • Diverticulitis
  • Peptic ulcer disease
  • Malabsorption

Risk factors for Digestive Disorders

One of the biggest risk factors for digestive disorders is your genetics. Certain digestive diseases are thought to be hereditary. These disorders include:

  • Crohn's disease
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Certain liver diseases
  • Celiac disease
  • Cystic fibrosis

Certain diseases in other parts of your body put you at higher risk for digestive disorders such as:

  • Scleroderma
  • Lupus
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Heart failure 
  • HIV
  • Diabetes

Also, having a history of surgeries like gall bladder surgery, bowel resection, and bariatric surgery can put you at higher risk of developing a digestive order.

Causes of Digestive Disorders

 Common causes of digestive orders include:

  • bacterial infections
  • Viral infections
  • Lactose intolerance
  • Difficulty digesting certain foods

Other causes include lifestyle choices including:

  • High-stress levels
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Smoking
  • Not exercising regularly

Some people experience functional disorders, meaning they experience symptoms, but all test results are normal. Unfortunately, functional disorders cause real symptoms and affect your quality of life, yet they are difficult to treat. Irritable bowel syndrome is an example of a functional disorder.

There are also structural causes from things like an ulcer in your stomach or intestines, as well as a cancerous tumor. Not only do structural problems cause digestive disorders, but so does your age. As we age, food doesn't move through us like it once did. 

Signs and Symptoms of Digestive Disorders

Digestive disorders can be mild or serious, but usually, signs of problems in the digestive tract include symptoms like:

  • Bloating
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Bleeding
  • Heartburn or abdominal pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Problems swallowing
  • Weight gain or weight loss

Remember symptoms of digestive orders can vary depending on the condition, but for severe abdominal pain or blood in your stool, see your doctor immediately.

Diagnosis of Digestive Disorders

To reach a diagnosis, your doctor will first ask you about your medical history, family history and discuss what symptoms you've been experiencing. A physical exam is done next to assess for any obvious signs of illness.

Your doctor will first order a series of GI lab tests that will help assess your blood levels, inflammatory markers, and overall digestive health. These labs usually include a complete blood count, vitamin B12 level, and a celiac disease panel.

Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may order other tests like a CT scan to study your digestive organs like the liver and pancreas. A barium enema is a series of tests that examine your rectum and the lower part of your small intestine. Barium is given through your rectum via an enema which highlights blockages and other problem areas.

Your doctor may also want you to have a colonoscopy. This procedure involves a long narrow tube that is inserted into your rectum up into the colon, and it helps identity:

  • Inflammation
  • Ulcers
  • Growths
  • Bleeding

An upper endoscopy allows your doctor to examine your esophagus and stomach. Under anesthesia, a tube is inserted through your mouth and throat to visualize the areas of your upper GI tract. 

Lab Tests for Digestive Disorders

digestive health panel is the best place to start to test for gastrointestinal diagnostic lab tests. A panel is a great tool to evaluate your blood, organs, and how a digestive disorder might be impacting your health.

complete blood count (CBC) measures your blood levels, white blood cells, platelets and is a good indicator of your overall health. 

comprehensive metabolic profile (CMP) checks things like your liver and kidney function, blood glucose, and electrolytes. And a c-reactive protein (CRP) measures the amount of inflammation in your body and can point towards inflammatory bowel disease.

You'll also have a celiac disease panel that will test your antibody levels for the presence of celiac disease, which is an autoimmune reaction to eating gluten. Your iron and total iron-binding capacity is also measured and is a good indicator of inflammatory disorders.

Your vitamin B12 and Vitamin D level are often decreased from malabsorption with digestive orders.

Other gastrointestinal diagnostic tests include a fecal globin by immunochemistry. This test detects blood in your stool and is useful in detecting conditions like ulcerative colitis and colon cancer.

FAQS About Digestive Disorders

What are the most common symptoms of digestive disorders? The most common symptoms you're most likely to experience include:

  • Bloating
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Heartburn. 

What are some fun and interesting facts about the digestive system? Some interesting things to know include:

  • The average person produces over two pints of saliva each day
  • Every muscle in your esophagus work together and act as a giant wave
  • The enzymes in your digestive system separate food into nutrients
  • Even if you're standing on your head, your body can still digest food
  • Your small intestine is about 23 feet long, while your large intestine is 5 feet long

Your digestive system is an amazing and interesting system that keeps your mind and body on track. Many times you can find remedies for digestive issues by a little reading and research. 

Digestive Health Lab Tests With Ulta Lab Tests

Ulta Lab Tests offers highly accurate tests, allowing you to make the best decisions about your health. Here are some things you'll love about Ulta Lab Tests:

  • Secure and confidential results
  • No need for health insurance
  • No need for a physician's referral
  • Always affordable pricing
  • 100% satisfaction guarantee

Order your digestive health lab tests today, and your results will be provided securely and confidentially within 24 to 48 hours in most cases.

Take control with Ulta Lab Tests today!

The gallbladder is a pear-shaped, small organ in your abdomen under the liver. In between meals, the gallbladder gathers bile and stores it. This digestive fluid is made inside the liver. It contains bile salts as well as other substances to help with digesting fat from food. During meals, the gallbladder contracts and then bile is released into the small intestine to help with digestion. 

Bile ducts are thin tubes that transport bile from the gallbladder and liver into the intestines and include the following:  

  • Common bile duct 
  • Hepatic duct 
  • Cystic duct  

The gallbladder, in addition to the bile ducts that connect it to the small intestine and liver, is referred to as the biliary system. Also, the common bile duct runs through the top part of the pancreas, transporting bile into the small intestine from the gallbladder and liver. The pancreas is a flat, narrow organ with a tail, middle, and head section. The head section connects with the duodenum or first section of the small intestine. Digestive enzymes are carried by the pancreatic duct down the pancreas and then into the duodenum. Usually, the pancreatic duct and bile duct join right before the duodenum is entered and share the same opening to the small intestine.  

When the gallbladder isn’t functioning properly, gallbladder disease occurs. A majority of gallbladder problems happen when one a bile duct is blocked by a gallstone, which causes symptoms such as nausea and severe abdominal pain.   

Gallbladder disease also can develop when a blockage is caused by something else or with congenital defects, tumors, infections, or inflammation. A gallstone at times may block the pancreatic duct, which causes pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas.  

Gallbladder Disease and Blockage  

Gallstones form when substances, like calcium salts, bile pigments, and/or cholesterol, harden into solid forms. Gallstone might be as big as a golf ball or as small as grains of sand.  

Gallstones affect 10% to 15% of adults in the U.S. under 65 years old and 20% of individuals who are older than 65 years old. Gallstones do not cause any symptoms most of the time. When the cystic duct is blocked by the gallstones, which leads to the bile duct, or the actual common bile duct, bile accumulates inside the gallbladder, which causes pain, swelling, and pressure. Pain that gallstones cause is referred to as biliary colic. Usually, it takes place in the upper abdomen or the back of the right shoulder blade sometimes within a short time period.  

Other types of gallbladder blockages: – Although the most common cause of gallbladder blockages are gallstones, other conditions may prevent bile from being able to move inside of the bile ducts They include the following:  

  • Biliary sludge – this occurs when bile stays too long inside the gallbladder. Microscopic bile particles may accumulate with stones forming. Eventually, the biliary sludge forms gallstones or passes into the biliary ducts and blocks them. Biliary sludge tends to form during pregnancy and normally disappears by itself.   
  • Viral infections – Gallbladder inflammation can trigger virial infections and cause the bile ducts to become scarred and inflamed, which can also cause the narrowing of the ducts. Before antiviral medications were widely available for treating HIV, 25% of individuals with HIV were affected by this gallbladder condition. Today, gallbladder disease caused by viral infection is reported only rarely in developed countries, although in developing countries, it is still a problem.   
  • Gallbladder cancer – this form of cancer is rare. For gallbladder cancer, the most common risk factor is gallstones. Since bile ducts can be blocked by a tumor, symptoms of gallbladder cancer are similar to the symptoms of gallstones. Bile ducts can also be blocked by cancers of the pancreas and non-cancerous tumors. 

Gallbladder inflammation (cholecystitis) 

Fortunately, uncomplicated gallbladder inflammation is quite treatable. However, if gallbladder inflammation is left untreated, it can become quite severe. It can result in a bacterial infection to develop, which can require the patient to receive antibiotics in the hospital. Severe, untreated inflammation may also result in sepsis, gangrene, gallbladder rupture, and pancreatitis.  

When a gallbladder blockage caused by gallstones or another type of obstruction persists, it may cause cholecystitis, which is gallbladder inflammation. 

Cholecystitis can develop very rapidly with a few hours (acute) or over a long time period (chronic). Acute cholecystitis begins suddenly and can cause severe pain within the upper abdomen and normally will last for over 6 hours.  

A person can rarely develop acute gallbladder inflammation with no evidence of any gallstone or another type of obstruction that blocks the bile duct. It is a serious condition referred to as acalculous cholecystitis. It may result in gangrene or a ruptured gallbladder. If left untreated, it can potentially be fatal.  

Typically, acalculous cholecystitis develops as a complication after a person is very ill already. It can affect individuals who are immune deficient, someone who has undergone extended intravenous feeding, has sepsis, severe burns, a serious injury, or has had major surgery. Sluggish bile movement can cause acalculous cholecystitis, which may be brought on in critically ill individuals by dehydration and fever.  

Ten percent of gallbladder inflammation cases are caused by acalculous cholecystitis, while the remainder is caused by gallstones:

  • Gallbladder pain but no gallstones  
  • People sometimes experience gallbladder pain without any obvious block of their bile duct. The pain may be caused by the following:  
  • Undetected small gallstones passing through the ducts 
  • The muscle in between the small intestines and bile duct not functioning 
  • A sensitive small intestine or biliary tract 

In some cases, it is not known why bile is not properly leaving the gallbladder  

Risk Factors 

The following are some of the most common risk factors for the development of gallbladder disease and gallstones:  

  • Older age (40 years old and older) 
  • Female Sex 
  • High blood cholesterol levels 
  • Obesity  
  • Mexican American or Native American descent  
  • Estrogen-containing medication treatment 
  • Rapid weight loss 
  • Family history of developing gallstones  
  • Liver disease 
  • Sickle cell anemia and other forms of hemolytic anemia  
  • Cystic fibrosis 
  • Diabetes 
  • Low fiber, high cholesterol, and/or high-fat diet  
  • Pregnancy 
  • Sedentary lifestyle  

Symptoms and Signs  

The most common cause of gallbladder disease is gallstone. However, most gallstones do not cause symptoms. Often they are discovered when an individual has an ultrasound or abdominal X-ray for evaluating a different issue.  

However, pain may experience inside the abdomen when a gallstone is blocking the bile flow outside of the gallbladder when it contracts. It is referred to as biliary colic. Symptoms and signs can include the following:  

Severe abdominal pain, particularly at the center or top ride side of the abdomen  

Nausea and abdominal pain occurring at the very same time 

Pain spreading to the right shoulder blade or back  

Abdominal pain linked when consuming a fatty meal (at the te the gallbladder contracts)  

The intense pain normally lasts for 30 minutes, at least but starts subsiding within one hour. Usually, a biliary colic attack lasts for under 6 hours.   

In certain cases, the cystic duct is permanently blocked by a gallstone, which results in gallbladder inflammation (acute cholecystitis). The pain is prolonged (normally more than 6 hours), unrelenting, and severe in acute cholecystitis. Typically a fever accompanies the pain.    

The stone can occasionally move from the gallbladder and inside the tube that transports bile into the intestine (referred to as the common bile duct). It may cause jaundice (yellow eyes and skin). You might also notice light-colored stool and dark urine. 

Acute cholangitis (inflammation of either the hepatic duct or the common bile) happens if bacteria enter into the blocked tube. That results in a high fever, often with extreme tiredness, vomiting, and pain.  

Gallstones may become lodge at the place where the common bile duct and pancreas meet. That results in pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas). Symptoms of gallbladder infection or inflammation that require a medical exam include:   

  • Whites of the eyes and yellowing of the skin (jaundice) 
  • Chills 
  • Fever 
  • Vomiting  
  • A gallbladder tumor blocking a bile duct may cause symptoms and signs that are similar to gallstones. A person who has gallstone cancer might also have:  
  • Greasy or light-colored stools 
  • Dark urine 
  • Weight loss 
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Itchy skin 
  • Lumps on the right side of the stomach  

Laboratory Tests 

Lab tests can be conducted to detect complications and determine the kind of gallbladder disease. Typically, people with uncomplicated gallbladder disease will have normal results on their lab tests.  

Some examples of lab tests that might be conducted when it is suspected that a person might have gallbladder disease include the following:  

Complete blood count (CBC) – this test evaluates the blood cells. When white blood cell counts are high, it can indicate a ruptured gallbladder, an abscess, infection, or inflammation.  

C-reactive protein (CRP -preferred test) or erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) – elevated results are an indication of inflammation.  

Liver panel – if a person has gallstones blocking bile ducts, bilirubin results might be high because of bile backing up inside the liver.  In severe gallbladder inflammation cases, alkaline phosphatase (ALP) and other liver enzymes might be elevated.  

Amylase or lipase (preferred test) – these are pancreatic enzymes that might be elevated if pancreatitis has also been caused by gallbladder disease.