The digestive system is one of the more remarkable systems found in the body. There are a number of things that happen from the time that your food enters your mouth to the time it leaves your body as waste. The body uses several different organs to help with digestion, including the stomach, intestines, pancreas, liver, and esophagus. The process is supposed to happen pretty seamlessly, but sometimes complications arise that cause changes in digestion. While some of these are rather minor and will pass with time and gentle care, others require the immediate assistance of a gastroenterologist, or GI doctor. If you see or experience any of the following 5 signs in this article, it’s time to schedule an appointment.
You Find Blood in Your Stool
Yeah, we get it. Talking about poop is kinda gross and something that you’d rather not discuss. But (no pun intended), there is something about your poop that you should never ignore and for which you should seek help for immediately. Finding blood in your poop can be a frightening thing. While small tears around the anus, called anal fissures, can cause minimal bleeding and aren’t as concerning, blood in the stool as it is exiting your body is something worth discussing with your GI doctor. Blood in the stool means that there is an issue involving bleeding somewhere in your digestive tract. There are several conditions that could be causing you to see blood in your stool, including diverticular disease, colitis, polyps, hemorrhoids, or even cancer. Once you’ve consulted with your GI doctor, one of several tests may be conducted to determine the cause of the bleeding. These tests can include, but are not limited to an endoscopy, an enteroscopy, a colonoscopy, a nasogastric lavage, an EGD (esophagogastroduodenoscopy), a barium x-ray, or even an angiography. If the bleeding can’t be located, a doctor may conduct a laparotomy.
While not all cases of finding blood in your stool indicate severe issues, it is never something to ignore or put off. Schedule a visit immediately so we can evaluate the issue and move you towards a solution!
You Experience Prolonged Abdominal Pain or Bloating
Prolonged abdominal pain or bloating can be incredibly uncomfortable and put a real damper on your daily activities. It can also be pretty frightening to constantly have pain in your stomach without being able to put your finger on the potential cause. Abdominal discomfort or bloating on their own don’t necessarily indicate a dire problem, but when coupled with severe pain, high fevers, blood in the stool, diarrhea, or vomiting, you should see a GI doctor. Some of the most common causes of prolonged abdominal pain and bloating include one’s diet, high stress levels, medications, and certain conditions, like Crohn's Disease, IBS and Ulcerative Colitis. In many cases, making lifestyle changes can help put you on the right track when it comes to decreasing your pain and bloating. However, in more severe cases, other treatments and plans are available. If you are suffering through any of these symptoms or feel you may have an issue that lifestyle changes can’t help, it’s time to contact your GI doctor.
You Experience Prolonged Heartburn
Heartburn is a condition that affects over 60 million Americans each month. Heartburn is an irritation in the throat or esophagus that is caused by stomach acid. Many cases of heartburn are temporary and are caused by the consumption of foods that can relax the lower esophageal sphincter or increase stomach acid. Others, however, experience a prolonged case that can’t be managed with simple over the counter antacids and medications. When your heartburn extends for a long period of time, it is called gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. If you are suffering from GERD, your GI doctor will likely conduct a test or tests including a barium x-ray, endoscopy, ambulatory acid probe test, or an esophageal manometry.
Prolonged heartburn, or GERD, is something that you don’t have to suffer through and something from which you can find relief. Don’t delay, as the constant acid leaking up into your esophagus can cause severe, lasting damage that could even lead to cancer. Schedule an appointment with us as quickly as possible to find the relief you deserve and need to live a pain-free life.
You Have Difficulty Swallowing
There are few things in life more scary when it comes to your body than when you have a hard time swallowing or feel like you are choking when trying to swallow food or water. Unfortunately, many people deal with this on a daily basis. 1 in 5 people over the age of 50 suffer from dysphagia, or the difficulty in swallowing. Overall, it affects up to 15 million adults in the United States. Swallowing is actually a much more complex thing than people think. As the food or liquid is chewed or prepared to be swallowed in the mouth, it then passes through the back of the throat and approaches two tubes that serve different functions for different systems - the trachea (airway) and the esophagus (pathway to the stomach). There are a few different muscles that are used in this process of swallowing, working together to make sure the air goes where it should and the food goes where it needs to go. Ultimately, the food and liquids will pass through the LES, or lower esophageal sphincter and then into the stomach.
Dysphagia can be the outcome of a few different causes, including muscle damage and nerve damage. When the swallowing mechanisms aren’t working properly, the food can sometimes enter the trachea instead of the esophagus (aspiration). While this happens periodically for most humans, those that persistently experience this can develop more severe complications that require medical assistance. If you are suffering through dysphagia, there are treatment options available for you that your GI doctor can prescribe. This is not a condition to mess around with or put off. Contact us immediately to schedule an appointment to get the treatment you need.
When You’ve Missed Your Screening for Colorectal Cancer
Answer honestly: have you skipped out on your scheduled cancer screening this year? Are you at an age where you need regularly scheduled screenings, but you just keep pushing them off? Did COVID-19 cause you to cancel or have your visit postponed? Are you putting off your colorectal screenings because the procedure seems, shall we say, a little less than appealing? Well, if you answered honestly with a ‘yes’ to any of those questions, then you’re not doing yourself any favors when it comes to digestive health and the longevity of life. When it comes to cancer and other diseases, the key to early detection is getting screened. The earlier that you are able to diagnose colorectal cancer, the easier it potentially becomes to treat. Screening can help find precancerous polyps so they can be removed before they become cancerous. The American Cancer Society reports that over 4% of men and women will develop colorectal cancer during their lifetime. It is the 2nd leading cause of cancer deaths in men and women combined and it represents over 8% of all newly diagnosed cancers. In light of this information, it is recommended that screenings begin around the age of 50 unless one has a family history with colorectal cancer, in which case screenings should happen earlier and by the advice of a doctor. If you are at an age for screening or have missed your regularly scheduled screening, you should contact your GI doctor immediately and schedule an appointment.
While this is not an exhaustive list of reasons to see your GI doctor, the reality is that you should schedule a visit if you are experiencing any prolonged or frightening abnormalities anywhere along the digestive process. As always, we are committed to helping you experience the best digestive health possible, so don’t delay in contacting us if you are worried about these or any other abnormal digestive conditions.