The digestive system is an amazing system that is constantly hard at work to provide you with the nutrition, hydration and functions you need to promote great health! From the time food and liquids enter your body through the time it leaves as waste, and there are many muscles, organs, and nerves that assist in this complex process. However, things can often happen in life that impact digestion and disrupt our ‘flow’. Some of these conditions or irritations are minor issues or discomforts. Unfortunately, others are more serious and require the advice and expertise from your GI doctor, or gastroenterologist.
You Find Blood in Your Stool
Seeing blood in the toilet or as you wipe after a bowel movement is a real red flag (no pun intended) and cause for concern. The issue could be something less ominous, such as small tears called anal fissures around the anus or hemorrhoids. However, if you notice blood in the stool as it is exiting your body or black tarry looking stools you need to consult with your gastroenterologist. There are several conditions that could be causing you to see blood in your stool, including but not limited to peptic ulcer disease, esophageal or stomach varices, diverticular bleeding, colitis, hemorrhoids or even cancer. Some of these causes of bleed are emergent and would require immediate attention. However, some less emergent bleeds are the most dangerous when ignored. For example, hemorrhoids and rectal cancer can present the same way. Based on your symptoms your gastroenterologist may recommend testing or procedures to determine the cause of the bleeding. 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 so we can evaluate the issue and move you towards a solution!
Prolonged abdominal pain or bloating can have a benign or serious cause. This is hard to distinguish sometimes. This is where a gastroenterologist can help you sort through your symptoms. Sometimes these issues are coupled with severe pain, high fevers, blood in the stool, diarrhea, or vomiting making the need to see a specialist even more emergent. Common causes of prolonged abdominal pain and bloating include diet, high-stress levels, medications, and certain conditions, like Crohn's Disease, IBS, and Ulcerative Colitis. Often, GI doctors can recommend certain lifestyle changes that can help put you on the right track when it comes to decreasing your pain and bloating. In certain 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 gastroenterologist.
Heartburn is an irritation and/or pain in the throat or esophagus that is caused by acid reflux and GERD. True to its name, patients describe having a burning sensation and pain around the heart and up into the throat. Statistics show that 1 in 10 adults deal with heartburn on a weekly basis. If your heartburn is not managed with simple over the counter antacids and medications, your gastroenterologist can recommend and conduct further evaluation to determine a proper course of action. If you are experiencing prolonged heartburn, don’t delay in seeing your GI. The constant flow of acid leaking up into your esophagus can cause severe, lasting damage that could even lead to cancer.
Swallowing Becomes Very Difficult
Have you had a harder time swallowing lately? Do you find yourself constantly choking on your food? If so, it’s time to see your gastroenterologist. Unfortunately, many people deal with this uncomfortable, rather frightening condition on a daily basis. 1 in 5 people over the age of 50 suffer from dysphagia or the difficulty in swallowing. Swallowing is a complex function involving many muscles and nerves from the mouth to the stomach. Dysphagia can be the outcome of a few different causes, including chronic reflux, certain infections, narrowing of the esophagus or damage to the nerves and muscles. If you are suffering through dysphagia, there are treatment options available for you that your gastroenterologist can prescribe.
It’s Screening Time!
When it comes to cancer and other diseases, like colorectal cancer, the key to early detection and the potential for successful treatment is getting screened. The earlier that you are able to diagnose colorectal cancer, the more effective treatments can become, which is important because statistics show that over 4% of men and women will develop colorectal cancer during their lifetime. In addition, it is the 2nd leading cause of cancer deaths in men and women combined and it represents over 8% of all newly diagnosed cancers. Screening is incredibly important in that it can help find precancerous polyps so they can be removed before they become cancerous. 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 (including those of you that missed an appointment due to COVID-19 during 2020), you should contact your gastroenterologist and schedule an appointment.
Your Bowel Habits Change
Bowel movements can vary from person to person. However, if there are significant, prolonged changes in the regularity, consistency, color, and even control over your movements, it is time to consult with your gastroenterologist. There are many things that can cause a change in bowel habits, including many medical conditions that require attention and often medical assistance. These include celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, diverticulosis, IBS, cancers, nerve damage, and ulcerative colitis. Your gastroenterologist can help you identify the cause and put you on the right treatment plan.
You’ve Developed New Food Sensitivities and Intolerances
As we age, food sensitivities can become more common. However, if you abruptly experience new and continued sensitivities and intolerances to certain foods, you could be suffering from a condition called Celiac disease. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease where people have a very difficult time digesting gluten as it causes damage to their small intestine. People who have Celiac disease ultimately have it for their entire life. However, it can be managed through the help of your gastroenterologist. Unfortunately, statistics show that 4 in 5 Americans with Celiac disease are not diagnosed and are needlessly suffering. This means that through a change in diet, 80% of people with Celiac disease can manage their symptoms and promote intestinal healing. If you are suffering through Celiac disease or believe you may have this condition, you should consult with your gastroenterologist quickly.
In reality, you should consult with your gastroenterologist if you notice any changes in your digestive system that are causing you concern or discomfort. If you are nervous at all about a potential visit, don’t be! Our physicians and staff will provide you with the most excellent, quality health care possible. We will guide you and walk with you on your journey, short or long, to digestive health and improved quality of life.