The gastrointestinal (GI) tract, from top to bottom, is composed of the esophagus, stomach, small intestine and large intestine. Each portion of the GI tract performs a vital and important function in the digestive process, with many layers of muscles contracting and relaxing in order to move food through the system.

When the muscle contractions of the GI tract become abnormal and uncoordinated, the patient begins to suffer from a gastrointestinal motility disorder. Gastrointestinal motility disorders can affect any part of the digestive tract and are caused by one of two things: A malfunction within the digestive muscles themselves, or a malfunction with the nerves and hormones that control the muscles' contractions. There are many different GI conditions that fall under the umbrella of motility disorders, and Memorial Hermann's comprehensive digestive disease program allows us to provide our patients with a precise diagnosis as well as advanced, personalized care.

What Are the Causes of Gastrointestinal Motility Disorders?

Gastrointestinal motility disorders are very common in the United States and all over the world. Motility disorders are related the movement and/or sensations of the GI tract. The disorders are also called functional gut disorders. Irritable bowel syndrome is a classic example. It is believed that the disorders are related to problems with the function of the smooth muscles of the GI system or its innervation causing abnormal contractions, painful sensations and abnormal transit.

What Are the Causes of Gastrointestinal Motility Disorders?

When a patient develops a motility disorder, the disorder manifests as variety of symptoms like difficulty swallowing (dysphagia), nausea and vomiting, heartburn, chest pain, abdominal pain, change in bowel habits and incontinence. The symptoms can be vague and both the patient and the physician can feel frustrated as motility disorders are difficult to diagnose and manage by traditional testing and management strategies.

How Are Gastrointestinal Motility Disorders Diagnosed?

We offer the following tests for diagnosis of GI motility disorders:

  • Esophageal manometry with impedance
  • Breath testing for small bowel bacterial overgrowth (glucose and lactulose) and carbohydrate intolerances
  • Esophageal reflux monitoring including pH and impedance
  • LPR and non-acid reflux evaluation
  • Timed barium swallow
  • GI motility monitoring with SmartPill® for gastric emptying and GI transit time
  • Anorectal manometryDefecography

How Are Gastrointestinal Motility Disorders Treated?

Once a patient’s specific gastrointestinal motility disorder is diagnosed and confirmed, he or she receives treatment from physicians who maintain special expertise and experience in that condition. Our hospital is staffed with nationally recognized specialists in esophageal motility disorders (including Barrett’s esophagus and GERD), gastric motility disorders, and pelvic floor disorders (including constipation and sphincter dysfunction).

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