Facts and figures


The gastro intestinal (GI) tract provides the means for the body to digest and absorb nutrients contained in food and drink and comprises the mouth, stomach, small intestine and large intestine. The digestive process is also dependent upon other organs including the pancreas, gallbladder and liver. A healthy GI tract promotes healthy digestion.  Damage, disease or infection in any part of the GI tract can limit the effectiveness of digestive processes and may have an impact on the nutritional status of the individual.

A number of conditions are known to affect the functioning of the GI tract. Approximately 1 in 3 adults in the European Union (>150 million) are affected by GI problems such as dyspepsia, IBS or constipation.


  • Dyspepsia is a term covering a group of symptoms that include poor digestion, pain and discomfort in the upper digestive tract.  The prevalence of dyspepsia is estimated at 20- 30%1 of the population
  • Gastro oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) is an uncomfortable acid reflux condition caused by the return of stomach acid into the oesophagus. It is suggested that common causes are the consumption of spicy or fatty food and overeating2. GORD affects 10-20% of the population in Western countries and has an annual incidence of approximately five per 1000 persons1. In European primary care practices, 3.4% of consultations are for GORD-related reasons and 24.7% of the patients had been previously diagnosed with acid reflux1.
  • Peptic ulcers are lesions that develop in the mucosa of the stomach wall causing pain and discomfort. In the past coffee was linked with the development of peptic ulcers. However, in recent years research has focussed on understanding the role of the bacterium Helicobacter pylori in the development of peptic ulcers3.
  • Gastritis is a slight inflammation of the stomach wall, which is generally unnoticed.  However, more serious gastritis can cause ulcers, with associated pain.

Small Intestines

  • Duodenal ulcers arise in the wall of the duodenum, which is normally protected from stomach acid by a mucus covering, however infection or use of certain drugs including painkillers and anti-inflammatories can disrupt the production of mucus and lead to the development of ulcers4.
  • Fluid Balance is important in the small intestine as fluid is a major component of digestive juices, enabling nutrients to be broken down into a solution prior to absorption.  Approximately nine litres of digestive juices are added to the first part of digestive tract daily, the majority of which are reabsorbed during the process of digestion.

Large Intestine

  • Peristalsis is the process of muscular contraction in the intestines, which encourages the movement of food along the intestine
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is described as a chronic disturbance of the intestine, but the cause is often difficult to specify. The symptoms that patients describe include abnormal bowel motions, stomach pain and bloating, complaints that may also be experienced by those who do not suffer IBS. The prevalence of IBS is estimated at 10 – 20% of the population in Europe,1 and the economic impact of IBS has been reported to be as high as €1600 annually per patient, including healthcare and indirect costs1.
  • Other disorders have a variety of causes including diverticulitis, and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) of which the two main conditions are Crohn’s Disease and ulcerative colitis. IBD is found in almost 1-2% of the population with accompanying annual healthcare costs of € 2 billion.1 There are an estimated 50,000-100,000 new cases of IBD per year across Europe1.


  1. United European Gastroenterology (2011) UEG Position Paper on the EU Research Framework Programmes   https://www.ueg.eu/fileadmin/user_upload/documents/Publications/UEG_Position_Paper_Version2.pdf
  2. Bolin T.D. et al. (2000) Esophagogastroduodenal Diseases and Pathophysiology, Heartburn: Community perceptions. J Gastroenterol Hepatol, 15:35-39.
  3. Moayyedi P. et al. (2000) The Proportion of Upper Gastrointestinal Symptoms in the community Associated With Helicobacter pylori, Lifestyle Factors, and Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs. Am J Gastroenterol, 95(6):1448-1455.
  4. Rosenstock S. et al. (2003) Risk factors for peptic ulcer disease: a population based prospective cohort study comprising 2,416 Danish adults. Gut, 52:186-193.

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