Gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms are caused by problems within the digestive tract, including the esophagus, liver, gallbladder, stomach, duodenum, pancreas, colon, appendix, small intestine and rectum. When left untreated, even those symptoms that may feel like minor irritations can quickly lead to more serious risks.
Common Symptoms or conditions
If you are experiencing or have any of the following, it’s time to schedule an appointment with your gastroenterologist.
The location and sensation of abdominal pain, as well as accompanying symptoms, can vary depending on cause. Common causes of abdominal pain include infection, inflammation and gastrointestinal disease. Infrequent, mild abdominal pain can be normal and may clear up on its own. However, if your abdominal pain is severe, caused by accident or injury, or coincides with chest pain, swelling, fever, or blood in the stool or vomit, seek immediate medical attention.
Anemia occurs when your body does not have enough hemoglobin, or healthy red blood cells, to carry oxygen through the body. Symptoms of anemia vary by cause, but include fatigue, weakness, lightheadedness and trouble breathing. Anemia can be a sign of a larger illness. If you suspect you may have anemia, contact your physician.
Change in bowel habits
Change in bowel habits is a term used to refer to changes in consistency, color and frequency of stool. While some variations are normal and can occur with lifestyle changes or age, dramatic or unexplained changes could be a sign of colon cancer. If you’re experiencing changes in your bowel habits, see your gastroenterologist.
Colon cancer and polyps
Colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer and the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in both men and women. Colon cancer develops from polyps in the lining of the colon, and, in its early stages, often presents with no symptoms. Screening is vital to prevention - If you’re over 50 or have a family history of colon cancer or polyps, talk to your gastroenterologist about getting screened.
Constipation is defined as infrequent bowel movements (fewer than 3 per week) or persistent difficulty passing stool. Occasional constipation is normal, and may result in mild abdominal pain. However, if your constipation becomes chronic or severe, or you are experiencing other symptoms, you may need to consult a gastroenterologist.
Common causes of diarrhea include viruses, parasites, food allergies and digestive disorders. Often, diarrhea presents with other symptoms, like fever, bloating and abdominal pain and symptoms last only a few days. Persistent diarrhea, lasting weeks or longer, can be a sign of a larger problem and increases your risk of dehydration. If you are experiencing persistent diarrhea, contact your gastroenterologist.
Dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing, occurs when food or liquids take too long to reach your stomach or swallowing becomes impossible. Occasionally, dysphagia occurs when you eat too quickly or swallow poorly chewed food. However, if dysphagia becomes a frequent problem or is associated with vomiting or unexpected weight loss, contact your gastroenterologist.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD, acid reflux, heartburn)
GERD, also called acid reflux disease, is a very common disorder that causes heartburn. GERD occurs when the stomach contents reflux, or back up, into the esophagus. Occasional heartburn is normal, but if it occurs two or more times a week, you should consult a gastroenterologist.
Hemorrhoids are swollen veins found in the anus and rectum. Hemorrhoids are common, and are typically caused by straining for bowel movements or gastrointestinal problems like chronic constipation or diarrhea. Hemorrhoids are rarely anything to worry about, but if you experience frequent or severe problems, contact a gastroenterologist.
Hepatitis is a liver disorder, caused by a virus, which leads to inflammation and liver disease. However, the severity of symptoms, course of treatment and curability depend on which virus you contract (Hepatitis A, B, C, D or E). Hepatitis does not always present with symptoms. If you think you may be at risk, get tested.
An excess of bilirubin, a pigment found in bile, causes jaundice, or yellowing of skin, eyes and mucus membranes. Jaundice can be a sign of conditions like hepatitis or gallstones, and can cause symptoms including fever and abdominal pain. Jaundice itself does not typically need to be treated in adults, but you should consult a physician to find and treat any underlying cause.
Loss of appetite
Decreased appetite can be caused by a number of issues, including medications, mental health problems and digestive disorders like hepatitis, ulcerative colitis and colon cancer. If left untreated, loss of appetite can lead to weight loss and malnutrition. If you are experiencing frequent or severe loss of appetite, consult your physician.
On its own, occasional nausea or stomach upset is nothing to worry about. But, combined with other symptoms, nausea can be a sign of digestive health conditions ranging from acid reflux and GERD to Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). If you suspect your nausea might be something more, call your gastroenterologist.
Rectal bleeding can be caused by a number of digestive conditions from hemorrhoids and constipation to Crohn’s disease and colon polyps or cancer. If you’re over 50, have a family history of colon cancer, or experience rectal bleeding for more than a day or two, contact a gastroenterologist.
Unexplained weight loss
Losing weight without meaning to can be a sign of many medical conditions, including loss of appetite, Celiac disease, and cancer. Generally speaking, you should consult a doctor if you lose more than 5% of your weight in fewer than 12 months. However, if at any point you are experiencing unexplained weight loss and are concerned, call your doctor.
Nausea and vomiting can be a sign of many digestive disorders, like gastroparesis, liver disorder or Crohn’s disease. Alone, it is often not cause for concern, but if you are experiencing persistent vomiting, or symptoms like abdominal pain, blood in your vomit or weight loss, contact your gastroenterologist.