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"Motility" is a term used to describe the contraction of the muscles that mix and propel contents in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. The gastrointestinal tract is divided into four distinct parts that are separated by sphincter muscles; these four regions have distinctly different functions to perform and different patterns of motility (contractions).

They are the esophagus (carries food to the stomach), stomach (mixes food with digestive enzymes and grinds it down into a more-or-less liquid form), small intestine (absorbs nutrients), and colon (reabsorbs water and eliminates indigestible food residues). Abnormal motility or abnormal sensitivity in any part of the gastrointestinal tract can cause characteristic symptoms.

Types

There's a variety of digestive and non-digestive conditions that are associated with gastrointestinal motility disorders. Here are some of them.

Gastroparesis

Gastroparesis is also known as "delayed gastric emptying" (in other words, a stomach that's slow in emptying itself). Your stomach muscles govern the movement of partly digested food through your stomach and into your small intestine.

When the nerve that controls the stomach muscles are damaged, food will move too slowly into the intestine, causing nausea, belching, bloating, heartburn, indigestion, regurgitation, or vomiting.

Diabetes

You probably don't think of diabetes as a condition that affects your digestive system, but in fact 20% to 50% of the people with diabetes also have gastroparesis; diabetes is the most common known cause of that gastric motility disorder.3 High blood sugar levels may be to blame for the problem.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is considered a "functional" digestive condition, which means it affects how your digestive system works but doesn't damage the organs themselves.

When you have IBS, your digestive motility is altered, moving either too fast or too slowly leading to diarrhea or constipation respectively. The abnormal muscle contractions also cause pain.

Esophageal Spasms

These are irregular contractions of the muscles in your esophagus, which is the tube that carries your food from your mouth down to your stomach. It's not clear why these irregular contractions occur, although, in some people, food that's too hot or too cold can trigger them.

Hirschsprung's Disease

Hirschsprung's disease is a congenital disorder in which poor digestive motility causes a blockage in the large intestine. It's far more common in boys than in girls, and it's sometimes linked to other major inherited conditions, such as Down syndrome.

Chronic Intestinal Pseudo-Obstruction

Chronic intestinal pseudo-obstruction is a rare condition with symptoms that make it look as though your large intestine is blocked, even though it's not. Instead, problems with the nerves that control your digestive muscles are to blame.

Intestinal dysmotility, intestinal pseudo-obstruction

Abnormal motility patterns in the small intestine can lead to symptoms of intestinal obstruction. Symptoms of bloating, pain, nausea, and vomiting can result either from weak contractions or from disorganized (unsynchronized) contractions that result from intestinal muscle (visceral myopathy) or nerve (visceral neuropathy) problems.

Fecal incontinence

Fecal incontinence means involuntary passage of fecal material in someone over the age of 4 years. The most common causes are -

  • weakness of the anal sphincter muscles
  • loss of sensation for rectal fullness
  • constipation, in which the rectum fills up and overflows
  • stiff rectum, in which the fecal material is forced through the rectum so quickly that there is no time to prevent incontinence by squeezing the sphincter muscles. Diarrhea can also lead to fecal incontinence.