Human Digestive System Is Composed of Multiple Term Paper

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Human digestive system is composed of multiple parts, including the mouth (pharynx, throat, palate, tongue, teeth), stomach, small intestine, large intestine, liver, pancreas, salivary glands, bowels, and many more. The sole purpose of the digestive system is to break down foods that are eaten, so that the food might be absorbed into the bloodstream. The existence of a digestive system sets animals apart from plants. Digestion consists of a physical and chemical breakdown of food. Because of the complexity and large size of the digestive system, diseases that can interfere this body system are numerous and varied in their modes of transmission, their symptoms, their treatments, and their possible short-term and long-term effects. This paper will focus on three such diseases: Cirrhosis of the liver (caused by viral Hepatitis), hookworm disease (caused by hookworms), and cholera (caused by Vibrio cholerae).

The large size of the digestive system, along with the diverse group of organs associated with it; prevent the presentation of one specific defense mechanism against diseases. Depending on which organ the disease tends to focus on, the body reacts uniquely for that organ. However, the most definitive action taken against digestive system diseases are regulations and standards for living conditions. Many diseases that affect the digestive system relate directly to food, and undercooked food, mishandled food, and poor sanitation conditions are common factors in someone contracting a digestive system illness. The human immune system plays a key role in ridding the body of foreign and harmful organisms as well. More specific defense mechanisms will be discussed with each disease, in regards to the organ to which the disease infects and causes damage to.

The liver is one of the most diverse and functional organs in the body. In short, the liver purifies every particle that enters the digestive tract, and every breath of air that enters the body; the liver also maintains levels of carbohydrates, minerals, protein, and vitamins the rest of the body receives. (Palmer, 9-10)

Hepatitis is a general term for many different strains of illness, all which cause inflammation of the liver. (Palmer, 73) Hepatitis can be described as either acute or chronic; an "especially severe form of acute hepatitis" is fulminant. (Palmer, 72) Acute hepatitis is gone, with no permanent damage, in six months. Chronic hepatitis lasts longer than six months, which can cause cirrhosis of the liver to develop, along with the possibility of developing one or more of the medical complications that sometimes occur because of cirrhosis. (Palmer, 72)

Five separate viruses, all with their own unique characteristics, can cause hepatitis. (Palmer, 73) Hepatitis itself causes similar symptoms to cirrhosis (see below) or sometimes no symptoms at all. Hepatitis B (HBV) specifically seems to be a more flourishing virus - there are about 200,000 new HBV infections in the U.S. every year. (Palmer, 95) HBV seems to be rather hardy - there have been traces of HBV found in human "blood, sweat, tears, saliva, semen, vaginal secretions, menstrual blood, and breast milk." (Palmer, 95) HBV is easier to catch the HIV, though HBV is harder to catch than the common cold. HBV can be transmitted through blood, childbirth, or through sexual contact with someone who has HBV. (Palmer, 95-96)

As discussed previously, Hepatitis can be acute, chronic or fulminant, and the same goes for HBV specifically. Fulminant HBV will almost certainly lead to death, unless there is an immediate liver transplant. (Palmer, 99) While acute hepatitis B is gone within six months, only

Chronic hepatitis B will possibly lead to cirrhosis of the liver. Out of the 200,000 new cases of HBV each year in the U.S., only 10,000 to 15,000 of those cases are chronic HBV. (Palmer, 99)

Cirrhosis of the liver can occur several different ways, only of which is HBV. (Palmer, 59) By definition, cirrhosis occurs when "healthy liver cells are permanently destroyed, and irreversible scarring occurs" and the liver is "hard and nodular." (Palmer, 59) Cirrhosis is an irreversible disease, and cannot be stopped once the disease has begun. While some progress has been made in controlling the disease, cirrhosis remains the eighth leading cause of death among Americans overall, and the fourth most common cause of death for those aged thirty to sixty. (Palmer, 60)

The symptoms of cirrhosis are practically the same, no matter how cirrhosis is caused. A mild condition known as compensated cirrhosis is typically accompanied with some vague symptoms that can include:


Decreased appetite


Loss of sexual drive

Palmer, 60-62) Those who have compensated cirrhosis usually maintain a normal life, with few health problems as a result of their cirrhosis. The life span of someone with compensated cirrhosis is also normal. (Palmer, 60)

Diagnostic methods of cirrhosis can vary, depending on the physical symptoms the person is having. A doctor's physical exam can lead to a diagnosis, while some lab tests can signal cirrhosis, such as an unusually low cholesterol test, love albumin level, or a decreased platelet count. (Palmer, 62) For the most part, only a liver biopsy can definitively diagnose cirrhosis.

Cirrhosis comes with the risk of complications; if any of these complications occur, the cirrhosis is known as decompensated cirrhosis. (Palmer, 60) Examples of these complications are bleeding problem due to a lack in coagulators (produced by the liver), kidney problems (due to excessive use once liver is no longer functional), osteoporosis (due to fatigue, poor nutrition, etc. As a result of cirrhosis), liver cancer, and an increased risk of other cancers (breast, pancreas, kidney, lungs). (Palmer, 62-65)

The single most important preventive action that can be taken in regards to cirrhosis is to get the Hepatitis B vaccination. (Palmer, 385) This vaccination is the "first and only vaccine in history that can simultaneously prevent liver cancer, cirrhosis, and a sexually transmitted disease" (hepatitis B). (Palmer, 385) Once HPV has been diagnosed, the earlier the better, medicines can control the virus from developing into cirrhosis. There are several medicines for treatment of hepatitis B, including Interferon alfa 2a, and Lamivudine, both of which are FDA approved. (Palmer, 148) There are also those who use the vaccinations as treatment, as well, including those who are pregnant to prevent passing the virus on to the infant during childbirth. (Palmer, 155) Cirrhosis itself is not contagious, nor is it hereditary. HBV is obviously contagious, but not hereditary.

Hookworms are an intestinal parasite that can cause an inactive hookworm infection or an active hookworm disease within a human. (Roberts, 472) Necator americanus is the genus species name for one of the hookworms that can cause hookworm disease in humans. Nearly "95% of the hookworms in the southern United States are this species" of hookworm, making it the most common species to cause hookworm disease. (Roberts, 470) The other hookworm that causes the disease in humans is Ancylostoma duodenale, which is found in southern Europe, northern Asia and Africa, and some parts of South America. (CDC)

It is quite possible for someone to be infected with hookworms and not show any signs of the disease; there is a clear distinction between the disease and the infection. Whether or not an infection will cause the disease to occur depends on the nutritional condition of the person who is infected, and the number of worms present. (Roberts, 472)

Around 25% of the world's population have hookworm disease. (Carson-Dewitt) In the United States, about 700,000 people are thought to have hookworms present, though the disease is less common. (Carson-Dewitt) The disease is not passed from one person to another, because the eggs have to hatch in soil before they can infect another host. This cycle takes about six weeks - from larvae to mature worms that can infect humans. (Carson-Dewitt) The most common mode of infection is through bare feet, where the hookworms will then bore into the exposed skin. The skin usually turns red, and itches, a condition called ground itch, which is the first sign of infection. (CDC)

As stated before, a small infection might not actually cause the disease, which would mean there would be no further symptoms. A more heavy infection can cause severe anemia, loss of blood, weight loss, diarrhea, stomach pain, and loss of appetite. (CDC) Children are especially "harmed by such anemia, and can suffer from heart problems, mental retardation, slowed growth, and delayed sexual development." (Carson-Dewitt) Babies can certainly die from hookworm disease.

Because hookworm eggs are found only in feces, a stool sample must be taken for a diagnosis of the disease. (Carson-Dewitt) By counting the number of eggs, a ratio of worms that are present in the stomach of the person can be estimated, which can also estimate the severity of the infection / disease. (Carson-Dewitt)

Treatment of hookworm disease again is going to vary on the severity of the disease. If the person is merely infected, the condition is usually undiagnosed, and therefore not treated. In areas where hookworm disease is common, less severe cases usually go untreated. (CDC) For more severe cases, doctors can prescribe…

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