Your Digestive System in Pictures

1
Learn About Your Insides

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It can be scary to experience unusual stomach and digestive system problems. While you are waiting to see your doctor, or as you work with your doctor on a treatment plan, it can be helpful to educate yourself about how your digestive system actually works.

You will find that you may be able to ease some of the anxiety that goes along with not feeling well by having a good understanding of what your digestive system looks like inside of you. Looking at pictures of your GI tract can help you to pinpoint where symptoms such as abdominal pain may be coming from. This understanding can also help you to better describe your symptoms to your doctor. Here you will find pictures of the primary organs of your digestive system. They may bring back memories of high school biology class and they will certainly help to make you a more educated patient.

Note: If you are experiencing any kind of unusual and ongoing symptoms related to your digestive system, it is essential that you make an appointment with your doctor so you can get an accurate diagnosis and develop an optimal treatment plan.

2
Your Upper Digestive System

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The process of digestion begins in your mouth as you chew food. Saliva not only adds moisture to food, but also adds enzymes that begin the process of breaking down the components of food.

As you swallow, food moves into your esophagus, where it travels downward to your stomach.

In your stomach, the act of digestion begins in earnest. Your stomach stores and churns the food you have consumed and releases pepsin and hydrochloric acid, both of which break down the components of food, resulting in a substance called chyme. After approximately two to three hours, the chyme is moved out of your stomach as it makes its way along your GI tract.

3
Your Small Intestine

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The digestive process continues as chyme from the stomach enters the small intestine. The main job of the small intestine is to absorb essential nutrients into the bloodstream. The small intestine is made up of three parts:

  • Duodenum
  • Jejunum
  • Ileum

The small intestine is aided in its work by the liver, gallbladder, and pancreas. In the duodenum, bile from the gallbladder and pancreatic secretions are added to the chyme. The jejunum and ileum are responsible for the breakdown and absorption of most nutrients, including fats, starches, proteins, vitamins and minerals.

4
Your Liver, Gallbladder and Pancreas

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The liver, gallbladder and pancreas all play an important role in the digestion of food. The liver produces bile, which is then stored in the gallbladder. Bile is then released into the small intestine as needed, where it dissolves fat so that it can be absorbed into the body.

The pancreas secretes bicarbonate, which neutralizes the hydrochloric acid from the stomach, as well as enzymes that break down proteins, carbohydrates and fats.

5
Your Large Intestine

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The contents of your small intestine empty into your large intestine, which also goes by the terms "bowel" or "colon." As you can see in the picture, intestinal contents move through the ascending colon, across the transverse colon and down through the descending colon. As material moves through the various parts of the large intestine, water and salt are absorbed by the lining and the material is compacted into stool.

Typically, stool is moved into the rectum once or twice a day; pressure from this process stimulates the urge for a bowel movement. This process is not quite so simple in digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), in which problems with the motility, or movements of the muscles in the large intestine, result in symptoms such as diarrhea and constipation.

6
Putting It All Together

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As you look at the above picture of your entire digestive system, you now have a better understanding of how food gets digested and where your digestive organs are located. This knowledge can empower you to work with your medical professionals to come up with an optimal treatment plan for addressing your digestive symptoms, whatever they may be.

Sources:

Minocha, A. & Adamec, C. (2011) The Encyclopedia of the Digestive System and Digestive Disorders (2nd Ed.) New York:Facts on File.

"Your Digestive System and How It Works" National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse Accessed December 26, 2010.

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