Swallowing and digesting are basic human functions that can be taken for granted when they work just fine. However, when aspects of the digestive process malfunction, it can cause a wide variety of health issues, ranging from mild discomfort to life-threatening conditions.

May is Digestive Motility Awareness Month. This article will seek to inform you of the main digestive motility disorders, their symptoms, and the available treatment methods.

What is Digestive Motility?

The digestive tract includes the esophagus (food tube), stomach, small intestine, and colon (large intestine). The tract begins at the mouth and ends at the anus. Digestive motility, or gut motility, is the term given to the contractions and stretching of the muscles in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.

Digestive motility disorders are problems that result when the muscles or nerves of the gut do not work in a coordinated way. There are many types of digestive motility disorders, some of which only affect a portion of the digestive tract, while others involve multiple areas within the tract.


Digestive motility disorders may cause a wide range of symptoms, including difficulty swallowing, gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD), constipation, gas, diarrhea, abdominal pain, bloating, and vomiting.

The problem with your digestive muscles can be due to:

  • A problem within the muscle that controls peristalsis, the series of wave-like muscle contractions that moves food through the digestive tract
  • A problem with the hormones or nerves that direct the muscle’s contractions

For many with digestive motility disorders, symptoms show a pattern. They often escalate 1 to 2 hours after a meal and flare up again at bedtime, frequently disrupting sleep. Symptom severity is typically most intense upon waking up in the morning. Digestive motility symptoms tend to be less intense in the late afternoon and early evening.

Digestive Motility Disorders

Conditions associated with GI motility disorders include:

  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) – An chronic intestinal disorder that affects over 25 million Americans. Symptoms include diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, and bloating. A small percentage of people with IBS have severe symptoms. Most people can control their symptoms with lifestyle changes, diet, and exercise.
  • Esophageal spasms – This occurs when the esophagus has irregular and uncoordinated contractions. The spasms cause food to get stuck in the esophagus, preventing food from reaching the stomach.
  • Gastroparesis – A disease that affects the normal movement of muscles in the stomach, making it unable to empty itself of food properly. Also called stomach paralysis, symptoms include heartburn, vomiting, and feeling full quickly when eating.
  • Achalasia – A rare disorder that makes it difficult for food to pass into your stomach. Achalasia occurs when nerves in the esophagus become damaged.
  • Intestinal pseudo-obstruction – A rare condition with symptoms that resemble those caused by a blockage of the intestines, or bowel. However, when a doctor examines the intestines, no blockage exists. The symptoms are due to nerve or muscle problems.

If you suspect you may have any of these disorders, seek medical attention.

Treatment of GI Motility Disorders

The study of digestive motility disorders is still relatively new. Researchers are still exploring ways of treating digestive motility conditions. Thanks to modern developments such as implants and medications, there is hope for many who suffer from these disorders.

The majority of treatments for digestive disorders are related to lifestyle changes and medication. For instance, people with these disorders typically have difficulty digesting certain foods more than others, so it is recommended they have smaller meals throughout the day. Medications can help with nausea associated with digestive motility disorders, and to help the stomach empty faster.

This Digestive Motility Awareness Month, make an appointment with GastroCareLI if you have been suffering from any kind of digestive issues.

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