General Question

Mariah's avatar

What parts of the digestive tract contain nerve endings?

Asked by Mariah (25883points) March 21st, 2011

I haven’t been able to find consistent answers by googling.

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15 Answers

incendiary_dan's avatar

All of them, to my knowledge. Or do you mean specifically sensory ones?

Fyrius's avatar

Ad-hoc musings with no settled knowledge of the answer:

The first part of the answer is easy enough to find out. Get yourself a cup of tea and drink it while it’s slightly too hot. Follow the burning sensation down to where you no longer feel it. That’s where there are no nerve endings any more.
Should be at the bottom of your oesophagus, I think. Or maybe halfway.

Whether there are any nerve endings between there and the exit, I don’t know. I don’t think there are any. Your stomach is full of acid that you only feel burning when some of it comes up with a belch or when you throw up.

Eating very spicy food can also show what parts have feeling. It burns when you eat it and it burns on the way out, but nowhere in between.
Wait a second. Spicy food doesn’t burn in your oesophagus either, contrary to hot tea. Maybe temperature sensation uses different kinds of nerve endings?

Mariah's avatar

@incendiary_dan Oh, I suppose I did mean sensory nerves. Didn’t realize there were other types. Specifically, which parts of the gastrointestinal tract can feel pain?

@Fyrius Definitely some good thinking – the esophagus can certainly feel pain. I think acid doesn’t burn the stomach because it contains some sort of protective coating, though. I’m not sure. What about stomach aches? Is that actually the stomach being in pain or is that just an illusion?

nikipedia's avatar

Are you familiar with the enteric nervous system? It has sensory neurons, motor neuorns, and interneurons (which just communicate between other neurons). Sensory neurons can be responsive to a lot of different kinds of stimuli, like chemical signals or stretching—not just pain.

I know the enteric nervous system innervates the small intestine, and I believe it also extends to the stomach, esophagus, and colon.

Mariah's avatar

@nikipedia No, this is all new to me. Thanks for that link. So since the enteric nervous system is in the small intestine, that means the small intestine can feel pain? I have a stoma right now, and nurses told me I wouldn’t be able to feel pain in it. I can’t, really, but then I started to wonder why I would be able to have gas cramps and such if the small intestine were feelingless. Thanks for the info.

Ladymia69's avatar

It’s the small intestine.

faye's avatar

You guys need food poisoning just the once to know there are lots and lots of nerve endings! Ulcers cause a lot of pain in the stomach and constipation can be dreadful.

Mariah's avatar

Can anyone answer why I would have been told by nurses that I wouldn’t be able to feel anything in my stoma? Is there anything special about the ileum?

Rarebear's avatar

There are different types of pain fibers in the GI tract. In your case, with UC, a lot of the pain comes from colicky type pain with compression of a hollow organ. There is also direct pain fibers, like in the esophagus, that complain when exposed to acid.

Rarebear's avatar

@Mariah The enteric nervous system is throughout all the GI tract. In terms of the ileum, you shouldn’t feel anything if you touch, say, the ilium itself. It’s not those kind of pain fibers. However if you were to clamp it off and allow pressure to build up, you’d feel it. Stomal pain is usually not in the intestine, but around it.

Mariah's avatar

Thanks @Rarebear, that makes a lot of sense. I figured the small intestine wasn’t sensationless because I’ve heard that when you have an obstruction (allowing pressure to build up as you say) it is incredibly painful.

Rarebear's avatar

Right. But it’s a different kind of pain than, say, if you were to stick a pin in it. You probably wouldn’t feel the pin, or if you did, it would only be a very vague ache.

JLeslie's avatar

Maybe sometimes the pain associated with digestion is caused by nerves around and outside of the system? For instance I used to have a lot of “colon” pain. Then I had an exploratory surgery that discovered lots of scar tissue that connected my colon to my ovaries and felopian tubes; they cut the scar tissue and separated the colon from the reproductive organs and then my digestive problems/pain were alleviated.

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