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Diana Mossop

About The Human Intestines

The information on this page is about the human intestines and where applicable other body parts that are associated or related to the intestines.


The intestines are divided into two major segments - the small intestine and the large intestine, and like the entire gastrointestinal system, consists of five layers of tissue - the serosa or outer-most layer, the circular muscle and the longitudinal muscle which are the layers responsible for the wave-like muscular contraction of smooth muscle known as peristalsis, the submucosa, and the mucosa which contains roughly four million microscopic finger-like projections called intestinal villi which because of their shape, can increase surface area for digestion and absorption of nutrients.

Large Intestine

The large intestine, or colon, consists of ascending, transverse, descending, and sigmoid portions. The ascending portion extends from the cecum superiorly along the right abdominal wall to the inferior surface of the liver and bends sharply at a right angle to the left at a curve called the hepatic flexure. From there, it crosses the abdominal cavity as the transverse colon to the left abdominal wall at the splenic flexure and begins the descending colon which traverses inferiorly along the left abdominal wall to the pelvic region. The colon then forms an angle medially from the pelvis to form an s-shaped curve called the sigmoid colon. The last few inches of the colon is the rectum which is a storage site for solid waste which leaves the body by way of an external opening called the anus, controlled by muscles called sphincters. Substances which have not been absorbed in the small intestine enter the large intestine in the form of liquid and fiber. The large intestine or "bowel" is sometimes called the "garbage dump" of the body, because the materials that reach it are of very small use to the body and are sent on to be disposed of. The first half of the colon absorbs fluids and recycles them into the blood stream. The second half compacts the wastes into feces, secretes mucus which binds the substances, and lubricates it to protect the colon and ease its passage. Of the two to two and one-half gallons of food and liquids taken in by the average adult, only about twelve ounces of waste enters the large intestine. Feces are comprised of about three quarters water. The remainder is protein, fat, undigested food roughage, dried digestive juices, cells shed by the intestine, and dead bacteria. A common disorder of the large intestine is inflammation of the appendix, or appendicitis. Waste that accumulates in the appendix cannot be moved easily by peristalsis since the appendix has only one opening. The symptoms of appendicitis include muscular rigidity, localized pain in the right lower quarter of the abdomen, and vomiting. The chief danger of appendicitis is that is may rupture and empty its contents of fecal matter and waste into the abdominal cavity producing an extremely serious condition called peritonitis.

Small Intestine

If the small intestine were not looped back and forth upon itself, it could not fit into the abdominal space it occupies. It is held in place by tissues which are attached to the abdominal wall and measures eighteen to twenty-three feet in the average adult, which makes it about four times longer than the person is tall. It is a three-part tube of about one and one-half to two inches in diameter and is divided into three sections: (1) the duodenum, a receiving area for chemicals and partially digested food from the stomach; (2) the jejunum, where most of the nutrients are absorbed into the blood and (3) the ileum, where the remaining nutrients are absorbed before moving into the large intestine. The intestines process about 2.5 gallons of food, liquids and bodily waste every day. In order for enough nutrients to be absorbed into the body, it must come in contact with large numbers of intestinal cells which are folded like gathered skirts. Each of these cells contain thousands of tiny finger-like projections called "villi," and each villus contains microscopic "microvilli". In one square inch of small intestine, there are about 20,000 villi and ten billion microvilli. Each villus brings in fresh, oxygenated blood and sends out nutrient-enriched blood. The villi sway constantly to stir up liquefied food and remove the nutrients which can be absorbed and then passed through the membranes of the villi into the blood and lymph vessels. The fatty nutrients go to the lymph vessels, and glucose and amino acids go to the blood and on to the liver. The muscles which encircle this tube constrict about seven to twelve times a minute to move the food back and forth, to churn it, knead it, and to mix it with gastric juices. The small intestine also makes waves which move the food forward, but these are usually weak and infrequent to allow the food to stay in one place until the nutrients can be absorbed. If a toxic substance enters the small intestine, these movements may be strong and rapid to expel the poisons quickly.

The information on this website is provided for information purposes only and is not intended or recommended as a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your doctor/physician or other qualified health care provider regarding any medical condition or treatment. Some or all of the information on this page may be supplied by a third-party and not controlled by the DianaMossop.com website or authors and is therefore is not the responsibility of the DianaMossop.com website or its authors.


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