What is gastrointestinal motility disorder

Correct gastrointestinal motility is conditioned by a number of factors including:

  • morpho-functional integrity of intestinal organ cells, guaranteeing a suitable process of water re-absorption;
  • morpho-functional integrity of intestinal wall muscle cells, supporting the process of peristalsis and the progress of faecal mass;
  • correct development of bacterial micro-flora, which is essential for a range of functions.

Gastrointestinal motility disorders are characterised by an increase or decrease in gastrointestinal motility, that is the capacity to move food through the digestive tract via peristalsis. These disorders lead to various forms of imbalance in defecation, including incontinence, diarrhoea and constipation, and even bowel obstruction.

Causes of gastrointestinal motility disorder

Gastrointestinal motility disorder is closely related to incorrect eating habits, an unhealthy lifestyle and the presence of underlying disease, altering intestinal function.
Constipation can be of iatrogenic origin or due to neurodegenerative, endocrine or metabolic disorders. Diarrhoea, on the other hand, may be caused by bacterial or viral infection, food poisoning, or various forms of gastroenteritis or Crohn’s disease, or it may be iatrogenic.
Other causes may be the following:

  • intense psychological and physical stress;
  • irregular lifestyle, including incorrect diet and a sedentary lifestyle;
  • chronic use of pharmaceuticals that may alter intestinal peristalsis, such as antihypertensives, antidepressants and antacids;
  • the presence of an alteration in intestinal bacterial flora or irritable bowel syndrome (characterised by the presence of abdominal pain and alterations in bowel regularity).

Symptoms of gastrointestinal motility disorder

The main symptoms of gastrointestinal motility disorder are the following:

  • abdominal swelling and pain
  • abdominal cramps
  • flatulence
  • a sensation of incomplete voiding
  • a sensation of nausea and fullness
  • morning halitosis

How to diagnose gastrointestinal motility disorder

Diagnosis of gastrointestinal motility disorder is based on the characteristics of the intestinal tract, the occurrence and characteristics of pain and on the exclusion of other pathological processes via objective examination and routine diagnostic exams. Possible exams include:

  • screening for organic causes through routine laboratory tests and colonoscopy
  • other tests for patients with alarming symptoms (e.g. rectal bleeding, loss of weight, fever).

How to prevent and treat gastrointestinal motility disorder

The prevention and treatment of gastrointestinal motility disorder, and in particular chronic constipation, is based mainly on nutrition and physical exercise.
A diet that provides for the increased consumption of dietary fibre and liquids improves digestion and aids relief of gastrointestinal disorders. A healthy intake of fibre, around 30 g per day, assumed with fruit, vegetables and legumes, can help avoid constipation and diarrhoea.
Physical exercise is very useful in cases of constipation, helping to reduce the length of digestion and gastrointestinal motility and restore regularity.

In the event that sufficient quantities of fibre cannot be provided through natural nourishment, it is advisable to integrate one’s diet with dietary supplements containing vegetable fibre.


LEMBO, Anthony; CAMILLERI, Michael. Chronic constipation. New England Journal of Medicine, 2003, 349.14: 1360-1368.
LEHMANN, Sara; FERRIE, Suzie; CAREY, Sharon. Nutrition Management in Patients with Chronic Gastrointestinal Motility Disorders: A Systematic Literature Review. Nutrition in Clinical Practice, 2020, 35.2: 219-230.