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Gastrointestinal motility disorders

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Updated June 14, 2014

Woman sleeping with hot water bottle
Nils Hendrik Mueller/Cultura/Getty Images

In normal digestion, food is moved through the digestive tract by rhythmic contractions called peristalsis. When someone suffers from a digestive motility disorder, these contractions are abnormal. This disorder can be due to one of two causes:

  • A problem within the muscle itself
  • A problem with the nerves or hormones that control the muscle's contractions
Intestinal walls consist of layers of muscles. In normal conditions, these muscles contract and relax in a coordinated, rhythmic fashion that propels food from the esophagus to the stomach, and through the intestine to the anus. But in the presence of a motility disorder, these contractions don't occur in a coordinated fashion. This results in food not passing through the intestine properly. When there is a motility disorder, the following symptoms may occur: Gastrointestinal motility disorders may be associated with the following conditions:
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Diabetes
  • Gastroparesis — paralysis of the stomach
  • Esophageal spasms — irregular contractions of the muscles in the esophagus
  • Hirschsprung's disease — a congenital disorder in which poor motility causes obstruction of the large intestine
  • Chronic intestinal pseudo-obstruction — a rare disorder of the muscles and nerves in the intestine
  • Scleroderma — a progressive hardening and scarring of the skin and connective tissues
  • Achalasia — an esophageal motility disorder

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