Listen to your gut feeling
Measuring up to eight meters in length, the intestine is our longest organ. It is no surprise that the intestine is also called the second brain. It contains over 200 million nerve cells and up to 100 billion bacteria. No wonder that there is a close link between healthy gut flora and human health.
This topic page contains fascinating facts about the intestine, tells you how to keep it healthy, and outlines the most common discomforts and conditions.
Busting the myths around digestion
Did you know...?
Vegetarians usually have a larger stool volume than meat eaters.
One person’s gut flora contains about 100 billion living organisms such as bacteria, viruses and fungi.
The human intestine can be up to 8 meters long thus making it our longest organ.
Over the average lifetime, the intestine processes about 30 tonnes of food and 50,000 litres of fluid.
The gut flora consists of more than 500 different types of bacteria.
It takes about 3 days for a meal to pass through the entire digestive tract.
The intestine is the centre of the human immune system. It contains about 70% of our immune cells.
The small intestine renews its cells round the clock: on average, it replaces its mucous membrane every 2 days.
Gut bacteria weighs about 2 kg in total.
The human digestive system
Bowel cancer is the third most common type of cancer in Switzerland. The risk of this type of cancer increases with age. Bowel cancer develops from intestinal polyps in 97 % of all cases. Symptoms include altered stool habits, rectal urgency without a bowel movement and blood in the stool.
Chronic inflammatory bowel disease
Two of the most common chronic inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) are ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. The latter can occur throughout the entire digestive tract (from the mouth to the anus), whereas ulcerative colitis only affects the large intestine and the rectum. Symptoms such as abdominal pain, diarrhoea and fever can occur in both diseases.
Gastrointestinal infection, also known as gastroenteritis, manifests as abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. It is an acute inflammation of the digestive tract. Bacteria and viruses often trigger gastrointestinal infections.
Irritable bowel syndrome
One of the most common diseases of the gastrointestinal tract is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Symptoms of IBS are long-lasting and recurring abdominal pain, a feeling of fullness, diarrhoea and/or constipation. Around 10–15 % of the Swiss population suffers from irritable bowel syndrome. It’s a lengthy problem and the symptoms can come and go, lasting for days, weeks or months at a time.
Intestinal diverticula are protrusions in the intestinal mucous membranes. They can appear in the small or large intestine. If the bulges filled with faeces become inflamed, this is known as diverticulitis, which must be treated with a bland diet, antibiotics or surgery, depending on its severity.
The disease is called appendicitis because the appendix, rather than the caecum, becomes inflamed. Appendicitis usually manifests as abdominal pain, which moves to the right lower abdomen within a short period of time and can become very severe.
Colorectal polyps are benign growths in the intestinal mucous membranes that protrude into the cavity of the intestine. Colorectal polyps can vary greatly in size and shape. As they grow, they can degenerate, i.e., develop into malignant tumours (bowel cancer).
During a colonoscopy the doctor can examine the inside of the intestine with the help of a camera and check for pathological changes. Colonoscopy is an examination of the large intestine and rectum, whereas enteroscopy is an examination of the small intestine. Since the small intestine of a human being is about 3-4 meters long, a complete enteroscopy is only possible if it is performed from below and above.
How the examinations are performed exactly: