If you have been experiencing stomach problems, you might be worried about what could be the cause of your symptoms. Maybe you are experiencing excessive gas and bloating. Perhaps your problem is diarrhea episodes that don’t seem to be getting better or you are finding that you are constipated much of the time. You might be wondering if your problems are just due to stress or perhaps you are worried that something more serious is wrong with you.
The first thing you need to do is to make an appointment with your doctor to obtain an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan, as there are perhaps hundreds of digestive disorders that could be the problem. But while you are waiting, this article will provide an overview of the most common digestive systems and point you in the direction of articles that cover the most common digestive disorders.
Note: Unless you are a health professional it can be hard to know if your symptoms are severe enough to warrant immediate treatment. The following two articles offer some guidelines. However, if you are having sudden and severe symptoms, don’t wait - seek out immediate medical attention.
Seven Common Stomach Problems
- 1. Heartburn: Heartburn is a burning sensation that arises in your chest and upper abdomen. At times, it is accompanied by a burning sensation in your throat and you may burp up stomach acid. Heartburn is a primary symptom of a condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). As chest discomfort may also signify heart disease, it is essential that you discuss any symptoms of pain in your upper abdomen with your doctor.
- 2. Nausea with or without vomiting: Nausea and vomiting are particularly unpleasant digestive symptoms, ones that we would all prefer to avoid. There was even a classic Seinfeld television episode, in which Jerry talked about his non-vomiting streak. Although vomiting is sometimes simply the way the body deals with unwanted infectious intruders, vomiting can also be a sign that a more serious problem exists within the body.
- 3. Diarrhea: Are you experiencing loose, watery and frequent stools? There are many reasons why a person might be experiencing diarrhea. As you seek answers, it is essential to remember that a major health risk associated with diarrhea is dehydration. So be sure to drink plenty of fluids.
- 4. Constipation: Constipation involves infrequent bowel movements and stools that are hard, dry and difficult to pass. Often there is a feeling that you haven’t completely emptied your bowel (incomplete evacuation). Constipation does not always indicate a diagnosable health problem. For example, the cause could simply be a side effect of medication or a diet that is lacking in an adequate amount of dietary fiber.
- 5. Stomach Pain: Pain in your abdomen can be the result of a variety of medical disorders. If the pain is sudden and acute, this could be the sign of a more serious health problem and you need to seek immediate medical attention. Pain that moves around and is eased by a bowel movement or passing gas may be coming from a more benign cause. In any case, ongoing abdominal pain warrants further investigation.
- 6. Intestinal gas: Although embarrassing, the passing of intestinal gas is usually just a normal part of digestion. If you feel that your symptoms of gas are excessive, discuss the issue with your doctor.
- 7. Blood in stool or on toilet paper: If you see blood in or on your stool or on the toilet paper as you wipe, you must bring this to the attention to your doctor, but you need not panic. There are many digestive health problems, some severe, some relatively minor that can cause this symptom (see "Blood in Stools").
Your Digestive System
As you wait to see your doctor, you can spend some time educating yourself as to what might be wrong. Typically, symptoms that occur in the upper part of your abdomen indicate a problem with organs in the upper part of your digestive system, while symptoms in the lower part of your digestive system indicate problems with the organs in the lower part of your digestive system, but this is not a hard and fast rule as pain can radiate. However, to soothe your anxiety as to what is wrong with you, you can refresh your memory as to what you learned in high school biology about your body by viewing these pictures:
Ten Common Digestive System Disorders
The following list covers some of the more common causes of stomach and intestinal symptoms and problems. You can read about each disorder to see if its symptoms sound like what you are experiencing. If it does, you can read further to see what you may be facing in terms of diagnostic testing and treatment. They have been ordered by upper abdominal disorders followed by lower abdominal disorders.
1. Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
GERD is a condition in which stomach acid "washes back" into the esophagus causing a burning sensation in the chest or throat, commonly referred to as "heartburn".
2. Peptic Ulcer
A peptic ulcer is a sore located in the stomach or duodenum. The symptoms of peptic ulcers vary widely from person to person.
Gastritis is diagnosed when there is inflammation in the lining of the stomach. This can result in a variety of digestive symptoms.
Gastroparesis is a condition in which there is a delay in the process of the stomach emptying its contents into the small intestine. Its primary symptoms are nausea, a feeling of fullness, and vomiting relating to meals.
Gallstones are crystallized components of bile that form within the gallbladder and the biliary tract (the path through which the liver secretes bile to the small intestine). Pain from gallstones typically occurs as an "attack," with pain in the upper abdomen.
6. Celiac Disease
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder in which the consumption of foods containing gluten trigger an immune system response that results in damage to the small intestine. People with celiac disease may suffer from a variety of gastrointestinal symptoms, but chronic diarrhea is the most common.
7. Lactose Intolerance
Lactose intolerance is a condition in which a person lacks the proper enzyme to digest the sugar found in dairy products. If you are lactose intolerant, you may notice that you experience digestive symptoms shortly after eating foods that contain lactose.
8. Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
9. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
IBS is a disorder involving chronic abdominal pain, with ongoing problems with diarrhea, constipation or alternating bouts of each.
Some people have a condition called diverticulosis in which little pouches form on the lining of the colon. Diverticulitis is diagnosed when these pouches become inflamed. Symptoms may start out with mild lower abdominal tenderness and then worsen as the infection intensifies, to include increased pain, fever, nausea, and vomiting.
Of course, when we don't feel well, our thoughts tend to run away on us. Fears are particularly strong in the middle of the night (kids don't usually complain about monsters under the bed in the middle of the day!) For some people, experiencing stomach problems can lead to fears that they may have some form of cancer. This first article, although written for IBS patients, outlines the types of symptoms that might be indicative of a more serious problem:
These articles will provide you with an overview of some of the more common forms of digestive tract cancers: