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Glossary - Digestive and Liver Disorders

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Abdominal ultrasound - a diagnostic imaging technique which creates images from the rebound of high-frequency sound waves in the internal organs.

Abdominal X-ray - a simple study that will give the doctor an idea of how the internal organs look.

Absorption - the passage of nutrients in food from the small intestine into the cells in the body.

Acute - a symptom that is new, ongoing, and may be severe in nature.

Allergy - a condition in which the body is not able to tolerate eating certain foods, or exposure to certain animals, plants, or other substances.

Anal fissure - a small tear in the anus that can cause bleeding, itching, or pain.

Anemia - not enough red blood cells in the body.

Anorectal atresia - absence of a normal opening between the anus and the rectum.

Antacids - medicines that neutralize stomach acid.

Anticholinergics - medicines that help calm spasms in the intestine.

Antidiarrheals - medicines that help control diarrhea.

Antiemetics - medicines that help prevent and control nausea and vomiting.

Antispasmodics - medicines that help reduce or stop muscle spasms in the intestines.

Anus - the opening at the end of the digestive tract where bowel movements leave the body.

Appendectomy - an operation to remove the appendix.

Appendicitis - irritation, inflammation, and pain in the appendix, caused by infection, scarring, or obstruction (blockage).

Appendix - a small pouch attached to the first portion of the large intestine (the cecum) whose exact function in the body is unknown, but may play a role in the immune system.

Ascending colon - the portion of the large intestine that is on the right side of the abdomen.

Ascites - fluid that fills the abdomen when the liver is not functioning properly.

Atonic colon - lack of normal muscle strength in the large intestine; can sometimes be caused by overuse of laxatives.

Atresia - lack of a normal opening, from the esophagus, the intestines, or the anus.


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Barium - a liquid used to coat the inside of organs so they will show up on an X-ray.

Barium enema - a procedure done to evaluate the large intestine for abnormalities. A fluid called barium that shows up well on X-rays is given into the rectum as an enema. An X-ray of the abdomen shows strictures (narrowed areas), obstructions (blockages), and other problems.

Barrett's esophagus - a condition in which normal cells that line the esophagus, called squamous cells, turn into abnormal cells, called specialized columnar cells. Damage to the lining of the esophagus causes the cells to change; often occurs with long-term acid reflux.

Bile - a digestive fluid made by the liver and stored in the gallbladder which helps digest fats.

Bile ducts - tubes that take bile from the liver to the gallbladder and small intestine to aid in digestion.

Biliary atresia - bile ducts that do not have normal openings, preventing bile from leaving the liver. This causes jaundice (a yellow skin color) and liver damage known as cirrhosis. Biliary atresia is a birth defect.

Bilirubin - a normal substance produced when red blood cells break down and are excreted by the liver. Bilirubin gives bile its yellow-green color. Too much bilirubin in the blood causes jaundice.

Bowel - small and large intestine.

Bowel movement - passage of stool (body wastes) from the large intestine through the rectum and anus.


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Candida - yeast that causes irritation and infection, especially of the mucous membranes of the body such as the mouth, vagina, and anus.

Carbohydrates - one of three main types of foods, along with proteins and fats. Found in breads, cereals, grains, fruits, and vegetables. Changed into a simple sugar called glucose during digestion. Provides the body with a source of energy.

Cecum - the beginning of the large intestine. Attached to the last section of the small intestine, known as the ileum.

Cholangiography - X-rays of the bile ducts.

Cholecystectomy - an operation to remove the gallbladder.

Cholesterol - a substance normally made by the body, but also found in foods from animal sources, like beef, eggs, and butter. Too much cholesterol in the body can lead to narrowing and blockage of the arteries, especially those that feed the heart and keep it healthy. High cholesterol can also cause the formation of gallstones. Ideally, blood cholesterol levels should be less than 200mg/dL.

Chronic - referring to a disease or disorder that usually develops slowly and lasts for a long period of time.

Cirrhosis - a chronic condition that makes it hard for the liver to remove toxins (poisonous substances) from the body. Alcohol, medications, and other substances may build up in the bloodstream and cause problems. Cirrhosis is a result of scarring and damage from other diseases, like biliary atresia and alcoholism.

Clostridium difficile (also known as C. diff or C. difficile) - bacteria normally found in the large intestine, which can cause a serious intestinal infection and diarrhea in some people who are taking antibiotics.

Colic - a condition in an otherwise healthy baby characterized by excessive crying.

Colitis - irritation and inflammation of the colon (large intestine).

Colon - the large intestine.

Colonoscopy - a test using a long, flexible tube with a light and camera lens at the end, which examines the large intestine for abnormal growths, infection, and evidence of bleeding.

Colostomy - a procedure done when there is an abnormality in the large intestine or rectum that allows stool to leave the body by a different route. Through an operation, an opening is made in the abdomen and the colon (large intestine) is connected to it. Stool passes through the opening to a collection bag on the abdomen. A colostomy may be temporary or permanent, depending on the health of the colon.

Common bile duct - a tube that moves bile from the liver to the small intestine.

Computed tomography scan (also called CT or CAT scan) - a diagnostic imaging procedure that uses a combination of x-rays and computer technology to produce horizontal, or axial, images (often called slices) of the body. A CT scan shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are more detailed than general X-rays.

Constipation - hard, dry stools that are difficult to pass in a bowel movement, or having fewer than three bowel movements per week.

Corticosteroids - medications that reduce irritation and inflammation.

Crohn's disease - a chronic illness that causes irritation in the digestive tract. It occurs most commonly in the ileum (lower small intestine) or in the colon (large intestine), but can affect the entire gastrointestinal tract. It is a form of inflammatory bowel disease.


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Dehydration - condition that occurs when the bloodstream and the cells of the body contain less fluid than normal, often due to vomiting or diarrhea. The body's mineral balance may also be affected.

Descending colon - the portion of the large intestine located on the left side of the body.

Diaphragm - the muscle between the chest and the abdomen that plays an important role in how we breathe.

Diarrhea - increase in frequency of stools compared to normal, or looser bowel movements than usual. Causes include infections of the digestive system, medicines such as antibiotics, malabsorption, and irritable bowel syndrome.

Digestion - how the body breaks down food and uses it for energy, cell repair, and growth. Starts in the mouth, continues in the stomach and small intestine, and is completed in the large intestine. The liver and pancreas add enzymes and juices that aid in this process.

Digestive tract - the organs that are involved in digestion; including the mouth, salivary glands, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, liver, gallbladder, small intestine, and large intestine.

Distention - swelling or bloating, usually referring to the abdomen.

Diverticulitis - occurs when one or more small pouches in the large intestine (called a diverticulum) become irritated or infected.

Diverticulum - a small pouch in the wall of the large intestine, which usually do not cause a problem unless it becomes irritated or infected.

Duodenal ulcer - an open sore in the duodenum (first part of the small intestine).

Duodenum - the first part of the small intestine, nearest to the stomach.

Dysentery - bloody diarrhea typically caused by an underlying infection of the intestines.

Dyspepsia - another term for indigestion.

Dysphagia - difficulty swallowing food or liquid.


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Electrolytes - minerals in the bloodstream and in the cells of the body, such as sodium (salt), potassium, and calcium. Electrolytes must remain in proper balance for the body to function normally.

Encopresis - involuntary leakage of loose stool.

Endoscope - a small, flexible tube with a light and a camera lens at the end, used to examine the inside of the digestive tract. It can also be used to take tissue samples for testing from inside the digestive tract.

Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) - a test using endoscope to send dye through the digestive tract. The dye shows up on X-ray and gives the doctor a look at the bile and pancreatic ducts.

Endoscopy - a test that uses an endoscope to examine the inside of part of the digestive tract.

Endothelium - the cells or membrane lining organs.

Enema - a liquid placed into the rectum to either clear stool out of the large intestine, or to examine the large intestine with an X-ray (barium enema).

Enzyme Linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA) - a blood test used to detect bacteria that can cause ulcers known as Helicobacter pylori (or H. pylori).

Epithelium - the cells or membrane covering the outside of organs.

Escherichia coli (also known as E. coli) - a bacteria that can cause infection of the large intestine. E. coli is found in rare or undercooked meat, and can also be spread by using dirty cooking utensils or through contaminated water.

Esophageal atresia - failure of a baby's esophagus to develop properly, so that it ends before reaching the stomach. Food cannot pass from the mouth into the stomach.

Esophageal manometry - a test that measures the muscle tone in the esophagus.

Esophageal pH monitoring - a test used to monitor the amount of acid in the esophagus, which helps evaluate the extent of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Esophageal stricture - a narrowing in the esophagus, often caused by irritation from long-term presence of acid in the esophagus with chronic gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD) - a test using an endoscope to look at the inside of the esophagus, stomach, and upper part of the small intestine. Tissue samples can also be taken to test for diseases.

Esophagus - the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach.

Excrete - remove waste from the body.


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Failure to thrive - a condition that occurs when a baby does not gain weight and grow normally; caused by many factors, including disease or poor nutrition.

Fats - one of three main types of foods, along with proteins and carbohydrates. Provides the body with a source of energy. Needs bile in order to be digested properly and utilized for energy.

Fecal fat test - assesses how well the body can break down and absorb fat. A fat free diet is eaten for two to three days, and then stool samples are collected and examined for the amount of fat they contain.

Fecal occult blood test - checks for occult (hidden) blood in a random stool sample.

Fiber - fiber is an ingredient in edible plants that aids in digestion. Fiber helps keep the stool soft, and keeps it traveling easily through the intestine. Fiber is found in vegetables, fruits, beans, and whole grains.

Fistula - an abnormal connection between two organs, or between an organ and the outside of the body.


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Gallbladder - stores bile made by the liver; sends bile into the small intestine to help digest fats.

Gas - air that collects in the stomach and intestines as a natural result of digesting food. Passed out of the body via the rectum or the mouth.

Gastric - related to the stomach.

Gastritis - inflammation of the lining of the stomach.

Gastroenteritis - irritation or infection of the stomach and intestines that can lead to abdominal pain and diarrhea. May be caused by bacteria or parasites, irritating food, stress, or emotional upset.

Gastroenterologist - a doctor whose specialty is digestive diseases.

Gastroenterology - medical specialty that deals with the digestive system.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) - movement of food, fluids, and digestive juices from the stomach back up into the esophagus; causes irritation of the esophagus with acid, resulting in discomfort. GERD occurs when the muscle between the stomach and the esophagus, known as the lower esophageal sphincter, opens when it should stay closed, or is weak.

Gastrointestinal - relating to the digestive tract.

Gastrointestinal (GI) tract (also called the digestive tract) - the parts of the body that break down food into small particles, allowing nutrients from food to be used for energy and growth: the mouth, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, liver, gallbladder, small intestine, and large intestine.

Gastroparesis - muscle or nerve damage in the stomach, which causes slow digestion and delayed stomach emptying, often leading to nausea and vomiting.

Gastrostomy - a surgically created opening in the stomach and the abdominal muscles. A tube is passed through these openings, into the stomach, to allow for feeding of a person who cannot eat normally.

GERD - gastroesophageal reflux disease.

Giardia lamblia - a parasite found in spoiled food or unclean water that can cause diarrhea.

Glucose - a simple sugar made by the body from carbohydrates in food. Glucose is the body's main source of energy.

Gluten - a protein in grains, such as wheat, oats, rye, and barley. People who are allergic to gluten often experience irritation and inflammation of the digestive tract when eating products that contain gluten.


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H2 blockers - medications used to treat gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) that decrease the amount of acid made by the stomach. The stomach lining has sites that react to a chemical normally found in the body called histamine. When histamine attaches to these sites, the stomach produces acid that aids in digestion of food. H2 blockers prevent the stomach from reacting to histamine, thereby decreasing stomach acid.

Heartburn - a burning feeling in the chest or area just above the stomach, caused by acid moving up the esophagus from the stomach.

Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) - bacteria found in the stomach that can damage the lining of the stomach and upper small intestine, leading to ulcer formation.

Hepatic - relating to the liver.

Hepatitis - inflammation of the liver that sometimes causes permanent damage; caused by viruses, drugs, alcohol, or parasites. Hepatitis has the following forms:

Hepatitis A - a form of infectious hepatitis caused by the hepatitis A virus. The virus may be spread by fecal-oral contact, fecal-infected food or water, and may also be spread by blood-borne exposure (which is rare).

Hepatitis B - a form of infectious hepatitis caused by the hepatitis B virus. Transmission of the hepatitis B virus occurs through blood and body fluid exposure such as blood, semen, vaginal secretions, or saliva.

Hepatitis C - a form of infectious hepatitis caused by the hepatitis C virus. Transmission of the hepatitis C virus occurs primarily from contact with infected blood, but can also occur from sexual contact or from an infected mother to her baby.

Hepatitis D - a form of infectious hepatitis caused by the hepatitis (Delta) virus. This form of hepatitis can only occur in the presence of hepatitis B. Transmission of hepatitis D occurs the same way as hepatitis B.

Hepatitis E - a form of infectious hepatitis caused by the hepatitis E virus. This form of hepatitis is similar to hepatitis A. Transmission occurs through fecal-oral contamination. Hepatitis E is most common in poorly developed countries and is rarely seen in the U.S.

Hepatitis G - the newest form of infectious hepatitis. Transmission is believed to occur through blood and is seen in IV drug users, individuals with clotting disorders, such as hemophilia, and individuals who require hemodialysis for renal failure.

Hernia - a section of intestine or other internal organ that pushes through an opening in an abdominal muscle.

Herniorrhaphy - an operation done to repair a hernia.

Hirschsprung's disease - caused by malformation of a baby's large intestine during pregnancy. Some of the nerve cells that are normally present are missing, causing problems moving stool through the intestine. This can cause obstruction (blockage) of the intestine.

Hydrochloric acid - acid made by the stomach that breaks down proteins in the foods we eat.

Hydrogen breath test - a test that measures the amount of hydrogen in the breath, and helps diagnose lactose intolerance. If the body is unable to digest lactose properly, it will make excess amounts of hydrogen due to an overgrowth of bacteria in the intestines.

Hyperbilirubinemia - too much bilirubin in the bloodstream, due to liver problems. Causes a yellow color of the skin known as jaundice.


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Ileum - the lower end of the small intestine.

Imperforate anus - caused by improper development of the baby's rectum and anus during pregnancy. The opening at the end of the rectum or anus is absent, so stool cannot leave the body normally.

Indigestion (dyspepsia) - feeling of nausea, bloating, gas, and/or heartburn caused by poor digestion.

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) - diseases that cause irritation and ulcers in the intestinal tract. Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis are the most common inflammatory bowel diseases.

Inguinal hernia - part of the small intestine that pushes through an opening in the abdominal muscle, causing a bulge underneath the skin in the groin area.

Intestine - digestive organs found in the abdomen, also known as either the large or small bowel. The small intestine removes nutrients from food to be used for energy, while the large intestine absorbs water from the digested food and processes it into stool.

Intestinal flora - the normal bacteria, yeast, and fungi found in the intestines that aid in digestion.

Intestinal mucosa - the lining of the intestines, through which nutrients and water are absorbed into the body.

Intolerance - allergy to a food or other substance.

Intussusception - a disorder in which the intestine folds into itself in a telescope fashion, causing obstruction (blockage).


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Jaundice - a yellow color of the skin and eyes that is caused by too much bilirubin in the bloodstream due to liver problems.

Jejunum - the middle section of the small intestine.


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Lactase - an enzyme in the small intestine needed to digest lactose, a sugar found in milk and other dairy products.

Lactase deficiency - lack of an enzyme made by the small intestine called lactase, which prevents the body from digesting lactose (a sugar found in milk and other dairy products) properly.

Lactose tolerance test - a test that checks the body's ability to digest lactose (a sugar found in milk and other dairy products). The patient drinks a liquid with lactose in it, and then the amount of lactose in the bloodstream is measured with a blood sample.

Laparoscope - a tube with a camera lens attached that looks inside organs to check for abnormalities. Often used in surgery to avoid making large incisions.

Laparoscopy - a procedure that uses a tube with a light and a camera lens at the end (laparoscope) to examine organs, check for abnormalities, or perform minimally invasive surgeries. Laparoscopy is a surgery which avoids making large incisions. Tissue samples may also be taken for examination and testing.

Large intestine (also called the colon) - the last section of the digestive tract, from the cecum to the rectum; absorbs water from digested food and processes it into stool.

Liver - a digestive organ located on the right side of the abdomen, under the ribs. Has many important functions, including storing and helping make blood, making bile (which aids in the digestion of fats in the food we eat), processing medicines and removing toxins from the bloodstream, and changing food and fats stored in our bodies into energy.

Liver function tests - blood tests that indicate whether or not the liver and biliary system are irritated or inflamed.

Lower esophageal sphincter - a muscle at the top portion of the stomach relaxes to allow food to pass from the esophagus to the stomach when we eat, and closes to keep food from moving back into the esophagus from the stomach during digestion.

Lower GI series - a study that looks at the rectum, the large intestine, and the lower part of the small intestine. A fluid called barium that shows up well on X-rays is given into the rectum as an enema. X-rays of the abdomen shows strictures (narrowed areas), obstructions (blockages), and other problems.


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Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) - a diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of large magnets, radiofrequencies, and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body.

Malabsorption syndrome - problems with how the small intestine absorbs nutrients from the foods we eat.

Malnutrition - a situation caused by eating a poorly balanced diet, or by not eating enough food to meet the body's needs.

Meckel's diverticulum - a problem that occurs as a baby is developing during pregnancy, in which a small pouch (or sac) forms in the ileum. The sac is usually asymptomatic, but can cause pain and intestinal blockage if it becomes inflamed. 

Motility - the movement of food through the digestive tract, aided by contractions of muscles in the stomach and intestines known as peristalsis.

Mucous - describes drainage or secretions that are made of mucus.

Mucus - a thick, jelly-like substance made by the intestines and other organs of the body (such as the nose), that helps coat and protect the lining of the organ. Mucus also helps stool pass through the large intestine and rectum more easily.


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Nausea - a feeling of needing to vomit (throw-up).

Necrosis - when tissue in an organ dies due to lack of blood supply.

Necrotizing enterocolitis - a situation that may affect underweight or premature infants, and occurs when part of the intestine is damaged or destroyed by a bacterial infection.

Nissen fundoplication - an operation that helps treat gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). The fundus (top of the stomach) is pulled around the esophagus and sewn. This helps prevent food from moving back from the stomach into the esophagus by creating a muscular band at the top of the stomach, which becomes tighter as the stomach fills up.


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Obstruction - a blockage in the digestive tract that prevents the forward movement of foods and liquids as they are digested.

Occult blood - blood in the stool that is not visible to the naked eye.

Ostomy - an operation that is done when there is damage to a section of intestine. It creates an opening in the wall of the abdomen, and brings a portion of intestine through the opening so stool can leave the body.


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Pancreas - an organ located underneath the stomach that produces enzymes that aid in digestion, and also produces hormones such as insulin, which helps the body use sugar for energy.

Parenteral nutrition - a means of providing protein, fats, carbohydrates, fluid, and vitamins to the body through a special solution given through a vein directly into the bloodstream.

Pediatric gastroenterologist - a doctor who treats infants and children with diseases of the digestive system.

Peptic - related to the stomach and the upper part of the small intestine (duodenum).

Peptic ulcer - a sore in the lining of the esophagus, stomach, or duodenum (beginning of the small intestine); often caused by a bacteria called Helicobacter pylori.

Percutaneous - through the skin.

Perforation - a hole in the wall of an organ.

Peristalsis - wave-like movements of food forward through the digestive tract.

Peritonitis - infection and inflammation of the abdominal cavity.

Portal hypertension - high blood pressure in the portal vein that carries blood to the liver.

Portal vein - the large vein that carries blood to the liver from the spleen and intestines.

Pouch - a specialized collection bag worn over an ostomy to collect stool.

Prolapse - when part of the body (for instance, a section of intestine) slips from its normal position.

Protein - one of three main types of foods, along with fats and carbohydrates. Proteins are digested into smaller pieces called amino acids that are used by the body to build and repair cells. Proteins are found in meats, eggs, milk products, and beans.

Proton pump inhibitors - medicines that affect how acid is produced by the stomach's "proton pump" system, thereby decreasing stomach acid.

Pyloric sphincter - the muscle between the stomach and the small intestine.

Pyloric stenosis - an enlargement of the muscle between the stomach and the small intestine, blocking the passage of food and liquids forward into the intestines. This condition causes forceful, projectile vomiting in infants and must be corrected surgically. 

Pyloroplasty - an operation that enlarges the opening between the stomach and small intestine so food and liquid can move forward and be digested normally.

Pylorus - where the stomach connects to the small intestine.


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Rectal manometry - a test that measures the movements and strength of the rectal and anal sphincter muscles.

Rectum - the lower end of the large intestine.

Reflux - digestive juices, food, and liquids moving backward from the stomach into the esophagus, and possibly into the mouth.

Reflux esophagitis - irritation of the lining of the esophagus due to movement of digestive juices backward from the stomach into the esophagus.

Rotavirus - a virus that causes diarrhea. It is the most common cause of infectious diarrhea in the United States, especially in children under 2 years old.


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Saliva - a fluid made by glands in the mouth that helps moisten and soften foods we chew, and begins the digestive process.

Salmonella - bacteria that can cause diarrhea, often found in uncooked or undercooked eggs and poultry.

Sigmoid colon - the lower part of the large intestine that empties into the rectum.

Sigmoidoscopy - a test that uses a thin, flexible tube with a camera lens at the end to look at the inside of the rectum and lower large intestine for abnormalities.

Small intestine - the section of the digestive tract between the stomach and the large intestine. Most of digestion occurs here as nutrients are absorbed from food.

Spasm - movement of a muscle that causes cramping and pain.

Sphincter - a circular muscle that opens and closes at an entrance to an organ. Examples include the lower esophageal sphincter and the anal sphincter.

Spleen - an organ found on the left side of the abdomen, next to the stomach. Helps to make white blood cells that help fight infection and filters and cleanses the blood.

Steatorrhea - loose, greasy bowel movements caused by an inability of the body to absorb fat.

Stoma - a surgically created opening in an organ, such as the stomach (gastrostomy) or intestine (colostomy).

Stool - waste products that remain after food is digested, including fiber, bacteria, mucus, undigested foods, and cells from the inside of the intestine. Passed through the rectum as a bowel movement.

Stress ulcer - an ulcer in the esophagus, stomach, or upper small intestine caused by excess acid produced as a result of physical stress, such as surgery, major burns, head injury, or other trauma.

Stricture - abnormal narrowing of a part of an organ.


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Total parenteral nutrition - see parenteral nutrition.

Tracheoesophageal fistula - caused by improper development of the baby's trachea (windpipe) and esophagus during pregnancy. The esophagus does not connect to the stomach, and there is also an abnormal connection between the esophagus and the trachea. Food cannot pass through to the stomach, and may pass into the trachea and then into the lungs, causing breathing problems.

Transverse colon - the part of the intestine that lies horizontally in the abdomen, running straight across the abdomen from right to left. It connects the ascending colon to the descending colon. 


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Ulcer - a sore in the lining of the digestive tract.

Ulcerative colitis - a disease that causes irritation and ulcers in the lining of the large intestine and rectum. It is a form of inflammatory bowel disease.

Upper GI series - a test that looks at the organs of the upper part of the digestive system: the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum (upper small intestine). A liquid that shows up well on X-rays called barium is swallowed. X-rays are then taken to evaluate the digestive organs.

Urea breath test - a test that measures the amount of urease in the breath, which is an enzyme that the bacteria Helicobacter pylori makes. This helps diagnose H. pylori infection, which can help determine the cause for ulcers in the digestive tract.


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VACTERL - a syndrome involving birth defects affecting several organs. V stands for vertebral defects (spinal cord), A stands for anal deformities, C stands for cardiac problems, TE stands for tracheoesophageal fistula, R stands for renal abnormalities (urinary system and kidneys), and L stands for limb deformities (arms and legs).

Volvulus - a twisting of the stomach or large intestine that leads to blockage of the digestive tract.

Vomiting - the release of stomach contents through the mouth; also known as throwing-up.


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X-ray - a diagnostic test which uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of internal tissues, bones, and organs onto film.


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