Abdominal pain and diarrhea can be all-too familiar, and nearly everybody will suffer from this combination at some point during their lifetime. But how do I know if my stomach pain is serious?
Having diarrhea with stomach pain is a common symptom of stomach flu. The good news is, the discomfort and pain usually disappear within a few days. However, there are other reasons you may have stomach cramps or diarrhea, and it’s important to know when to see a doctor and when to ride the symptoms out.
Read on to learn about the different possible causes of stomach pain and diarrhea, how to prevent some instances of it, and when to give your physician a call.
Figuring Out the Cause
When you’re suffering from stomach pain, diarrhea, or both, one of the most important things is to try to determine the root cause. Quite often, this type of abdominal pain is due to stomach flu or another virus, spoiled food, or food that one has developed a sensitivity to. Unless diarrhea and pain are accompanied by other severe symptoms, such as a high fever, the best course of action is to wait it out.
If you feel that it is a reaction to food, most times symptoms will subside in a day or two. However, there are some instances of food poisoning that definitely warrant a doctor visit – but again, you will see other severe symptoms along with general GI upset.
If you think you may be having a reaction to food, such as those with celiac disease who have a sensitivity to gluten, it’s worthwhile to try an elimination diet to confine the source of the upset. It is possible to suddenly develop a food sensitivity later in life – it’s also estimated that up to 20 percent of Americans have food sensitivity. Please note that celiac is a serious condition and ongoing exposure to gluten can cause increasing damage. Celiac should not be self-diagnosed.
Other causes you may be able to manage on your own include overeating, alcohol intake, medications, and stress. Stress levels can take a significant toll on the body, especially when it comes to GI problems. Try practicing mindfulness meditation or some other type of calming exercises, if at all possible. Regular physical activity is also an option for stress relief.
Stomach and bowel upset are also due to drinking too much alcohol or eating too much food. Try to manage your portion control when it comes to both food and libations. It’s recommended that women not drink more than one drink per day, while for men it is two per day. Some medications may also trigger stomach upset, so it’s good to ask yourself if the side effects of taking them outweigh the benefits. These include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen and aspirin, metformin (which is for diabetes), magnesium supplements, and antibiotics.
More Serious Causes
Diarrhea and stomach cramps or pain can have other causes, and if these conditions persist more than a few days, it may be indicative of a gastrointestinal issue like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Generally speaking, IBD is much more serious than IBS, although both can negatively affect quality of life. IBD can permanently damage the digestive tract, which is why arresting its symptoms is so important. IBD is often accompanied by blood in the stool, weight loss, fatigue, and other problems. IBS may carry some of the same symptoms but does not permanently damage the digestive tract. You may also experience gas and bloating along with IBS.
The main difference between these two conditions and flu or food-related symptoms is the length of time a patient experiences diarrhea and cramps. If you find you have GI upset for more than a week or so, it’s a good idea to let your physician know.
When to Call the Doctor
If you experience symptoms for more than a week, it’s wise to make a doctor’s appointment. However, if you have severe symptoms at any point throughout, it is also a good idea to be seen. Other symptoms that warrant a doctor visit include high fever, nausea and vomiting, confusion, difficulty speaking, vision problems, rapid heart rate, and seizures. While the most common symptoms of diarrhea and stomach problems are flu, food reactions, medications, stress, alcohol consumption, IBD, and IBS, these conditions can also be indicative of cancer, cystic fibrosis, appendicitis, or intestinal obstruction. If you have persistent symptoms, it’s best to be safe and be seen.
If you need to see a doctor for diarrhea and abdominal pain, or you are experiencing other GI upset, book an appointment at Carolina Digestive today.