When to See the Doctor About Your Digestive Problems
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There’s no denying that digestive problems can be difficult to understand. Nausea, diarrhea, constipation, stomachaches—all of these are common issues that can happen to anyone at any given time. As a result, many are often confused as to when a digestive issue requires a trip to the doctor.
“The most common gastrointestinal (GI) complaint is heartburn or reflux,” said Leela Nayak, M.D., gastroenterologist at Crozer-Keystone Health System. “There are a lot of other common complaints, such as loose stools, gas/bloating, constipation. Some of these problems are related to simple lifestyle choices (i.e. diet), but sometimes they are not and actually represent real pathology.”
As common as digestive issues are, those that become persistent and/or severe may signal a complication of a known digestive issue or a different underlying health condition. You may need to take the time to make an appointment with your doctor if the problem does not go away after a few days or if it gets worse over time.
“In terms of reflux and heartburn, a person should seek medical evaluation when the symptoms have been long-standing (for years), if their symptoms are not controlled with a medication to reduce the amount of acid in the stomach, if they see blood in their stools or vomit blood or if they have weight loss or difficulty swallowing ” said Dr. Nayak. “These findings are associated with either complications related to reflux disease or a more serious problem.”
Other symptoms that may require you to visit the doctor include feeling as though there is food caught in your chest, unusual abdominal pain, difficulty or pain when swallowing, when heartburn isn’t relieved by medication, vomiting blood, bloody or black stools, you lose a significant amount of weight, episodes of choking or persistent diarrhea or constipation.
You should also see a doctor if you feel as though your bowels aren’t emptying completely, you experience loss of appetite and feelings of fullness, bloating or flatulence.
Dr. Nayak added that anyone over the age of 55 should visit a gastroenterologist if they have new symptoms of abdominal pain, as they may need to have an endoscopy.
Since these symptoms can be the result of a number of different causes, such as an unhealthy diet, gastrointestinal (GI) disorder or stress, it’s important to see your doctor to identify the underlying issue.
“I think all digestive issues should prompt a person to seek out medical attention, if only to [rule out] more serious problems,” said Dr. Nayak.
When visiting the doctor, it’s important to be prepared to be completely candid about your symptoms. Not many people are comfortable talking about their bowel movements and frequent flatulence to anyone and this often inhibits people from thoroughly explaining their problems to their physician. However, the more they know, the more they’ll be able to help.