Your Digestive System in Pictures

It can be scary to experience unusual stomach and digestive system problems. While you are waiting to see your healthcare provider, or as you work with your healthcare provider on a treatment plan, it can be helpful to educate yourself about how your digestive system actually works. 


Learn About Your Insides

Mid section of muscular man with bottle aganist cloudy sky
StA-gur Karlsson/E+/Getty Images

You will find that you may be able to ease some of the anxiety that goes along with not feeling well by having a good understanding of what your digestive system looks like inside of you. Looking at pictures of your GI tract can help you to pinpoint where symptoms such as abdominal pain may be coming from. This understanding can also help you to better describe your symptoms to your healthcare provider. Here you will find pictures of the primary organs of your digestive system. They may bring back memories of high school biology class, and they will certainly help to make you a more educated patient.

If you experience unusual and ongoing digestive system symptoms, see your healthcare provider to get an accurate diagnosis and develop an optimal treatment plan.


Your Upper Digestive System

Human esophagus and stomach

The process of digestion begins in your mouth as you chew food. Saliva not only adds moisture to food but also adds enzymes that begin the process of breaking down the components of food.

As you swallow, food moves into your esophagus, where it travels downward to your stomach.

In your stomach, the act of digestion begins in earnest. Your stomach stores and churns the food you have consumed and releases pepsin and hydrochloric acid, both of which break down the components of food, resulting in a substance called chyme. After approximately two to three hours, the chyme is moved out of your stomach as it makes its way along your GI tract.


Your Small Intestine

Illustration from Anatomy & Physiology, Connexions Web site., Jun 19, 2013.
OpenStax College/Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY-3.0

The digestive process continues as chyme from the stomach enters the small intestine. The main job of the small intestine is to absorb essential nutrients into the bloodstream. The small intestine is made up of three parts:

  • Duodenum
  • Jejunum
  • Ileum

The small intestine is aided in its work by the liver, gallbladder, and pancreas. In the duodenum, bile from the gallbladder and pancreatic secretions are added to the chyme. The jejunum and ileum are responsible for the breakdown and absorption of most nutrients, including fats, starches, proteins, vitamins, and minerals.


Your Liver, Gallbladder, and Pancreas

Male liver and pancreas, illustration

The liver, gallbladder, and pancreas all play an important role in the digestion of food. The liver produces bile, which is then stored in the gallbladder. Bile is then released into the small intestine as needed, where it dissolves fat so that it can be absorbed into the body.

The pancreas secretes bicarbonate, which neutralizes the hydrochloric acid from the stomach, as well as enzymes that break down proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.


Your Large Intestine

The Large Intestine. See a related animation of this medical topic. staff (2014). "Medical gallery of Blausen Medical 2014". WikiJournal of Medicine 1 (2). DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.010. ISSN 2002-4436./Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY-3.0

The contents of your small intestine empty into your large intestine, which also goes by the terms "bowel" or "colon." As you can see in the picture, intestinal contents move through the ascending colon, across the transverse colon and down through the descending colon and sigmoid colon. As material moves through the various parts of the large intestine, water and salt are absorbed by the lining and the material is compacted into the stool.

Typically, the stool is moved into the rectum once or twice a day; pressure from this process stimulates the urge for a bowel movement. This process is not quite so simple in digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), in which problems with motility (movements of the muscles in the large intestine) results in symptoms such as diarrhea and constipation. Pelvic floor dyssynergia, which involves problems with coordination between rectum and pelvic floor muscles, can also result in constipation or incomplete evacuation.


Putting It All Together

Human digestive system, artwork

As you look at the above picture of your entire digestive system, you now have a better understanding of how food gets digested and where your digestive organs are located. This knowledge can empower you to work with your medical professionals to come up with an optimal treatment plan for addressing your digestive symptoms, whatever they may be.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the GI tract?

    The gastrointestinal (GI) tract is a collection of organs that allow for food to be swallowed, digested, absorbed, and removed from the body. The organs that make up the GI tract are the mouth, throat, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, rectum, and anus. The GI tract is one part of the digestive system.

  • What does the small intestine do?

    The small intestine is responsible for absorbing nutrients. As food is broken down by the stomach and small intestine, nutrients are absorbed into the bloodstream.

  • How large is the stomach?

    The exact size of the stomach will differ from one person to another. Generally, the average stomach can comfortably hold 1 or 2 cups of food. If we overeat, it's possible for the stomach to stretch and expand, making extra room for more food.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. NIH National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

  2. National Cancer Institute (NIH). Gastrointestinal tract.

  3. Michigan Health. 4 ways to stop digestive discomfort after a supersized meal.

Additional Reading
  • "Your Digestive System and How It Works" National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse

  • Minocha, A. & Adamec, C. The Encyclopedia of the Digestive System and Digestive Disorders (2nd Ed.) New York:Facts on File.

By Barbara Bolen, PhD
Barbara Bolen, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist and health coach. She has written multiple books focused on living with irritable bowel syndrome.