|MadSci Network: Medicine|
That is a very good question and congratulations on being on the high honor roll! Organs involved in digestion do fail at times and the effects depend on which organ it is. For example, if the pancreas fails, many of the enzymes involved in digestion either are not made or cannot access the small intestine. In that case, the person is unable to digest typical foods. The treatment for them is to either eat foods that are already mostly digested (there are a variety of formulas available for them) or to take specially made pills that contain the enzymes they lack. While the digestive organs themselves (the esophagus, stomach and intestines) do not "fail" in a classic sense of the term, they do become diseased or blocked. If they are diseased, digestion and/or absorption of foods is impaired at least temporarily. For example, it is fairly popular right now to use gastric bypass surgery to treat severe obesity. This type of surgery removes most of the stomach; people who have had the surgery cannot eat more than about 1 cup of food or beverage at a time and so lose weight. Some people develop diseases of their small intestine or large intestine. Sometimes, sections have to be surgically removed. The effect depends on what happens to food in that section of the intestine. For example, many nutrients are digested and absorbed in the ileum section of the small intestine. If all or part of that section is removed, significant impairment of digestion and absorption occurs. These people are then treated with formulas that are mostly digested (much like the people with pancreatic problems mentioned above) or may be fed through a vein. However, comparatively little digestion occurs in most of the large intestine, so removal of parts of it may have very little impact.
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