Gastrointestinal problems are extremely common.
Gastrointestinal disorders affect millions of Americans each year. People can experience a wide range of digestive issues, such as irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, ulcers, blockages, infections, and cancers. Most everyone experiences symptoms like nausea, constipation, diarrhea, and digestive pain from time to time. Often, minor gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms come and go without an obvious cause. However, when symptoms are persistent, severe, or unusual, it’s important to investigate what’s behind them.
Some of the most common GI symptoms include
- Blood in stool
- Difficulty swallowing
- Changes in appetite
- Weight loss
Often, simple changes can help alleviate digestive issues.
Most of the symptoms listed above can have a wide variety of causes, which range from innocuous to life-threatening. Often, pain, nausea, and other symptoms can result from stress or simply eating the wrong foods. If this is the case, you can try to minimize digestive discomfort by taking steps to manage your stress, eating a balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, and avoiding foods that can make your symptoms worse. For example,
- Fried foods and other high-fat foods can cause diarrhea.
- Foods that are high in acid, like tomato and citrus fruits, can irritate the stomach lining and cause heartburn or stomach pain.
- Beans and cruciferous vegetables contribute to gas and bloating. You can minimize this effect by ensuring dry beans are thoroughly soaked (and soaking water discarded) before cooking and by eating cruciferous vegetables cooked rather than raw.
- Foods that are high in sugar (including artificial sugars) can cause diarrhea, bloating, and cramping.
- Dairy products can cause bloating, gas, and diarrhea in people who are lactose intolerant.
- Processed foods can contribute to constipation.
- Alcohol can exacerbate nausea and indigestion.
- Caffeine can cause diarrhea.
- Spicy foods can cause digestive upset in some people. If you have nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea, it’s safest to avoid them.
Digestive symptoms can also be signs of a larger problem.
While an upset belly is often little more than a temporary inconvenience, common GI symptoms sometimes signal underlying chronic or severe illness, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or cancer. For this reason, it’s important not to ignore persistent or unexplained digestive problems. Be sure to consult your doctor if you notice
- New symptoms that don’t resolve quickly or existing symptoms that have worsened
- Frequent vomiting or vomiting blood
- Stools that contain blood or mucus or that look black and tarry
- Pain or difficulty when swallowing
- Chronic constipation
- Unintentional weight loss
- A lump in your throat or chest that doesn’t go away
- Feeling persistently tired or unwell in addition to GI symptoms
Your doctor will be able to perform a physical exam to evaluate your symptoms and order any tests that may be needed to identify their underlying cause. This could include lab tests, medical imaging, and/or endoscopy.
Iowa Radiology provides a full range of diagnostic imaging tests, including X-ray, CT, and MRI. You can find more information on specific procedures on our blog and in our free downloadable resources.
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