Digestive problems are common, but that doesn’t mean they are easy to discuss. Gas, bloating, and bathroom habits are not considered polite conversation, and many individuals choose to suffer in silence rather than seek treatment for their symptoms.
A recent survey found that up to 74 percent of Americans are living with digestive problems such as diarrhea, gas, bloating, and abdominal pain, yet half of them never discuss these symptoms with their doctor (Source: Fox News). These individuals run the risk of letting serious digestive problems continue undetected and untreated. While digestive symptoms may be harmless, they can often be the first sign of a more serious condition (Source: Bustle). The following are some digestive symptoms that warrant further investigation:
- Difficulty swallowing – It’s normal to experience difficulty swallowing when you eat too quickly or take oversized bites, but if you’re constantly feeling as though food is getting caught in your throat, it’s time to see your doctor. Blockages in the esophagus or esophageal strictures (narrowing of the esophagus) are two issues that can cause difficulty swallowing, and they require medical attention. You may also have eosinophilic esophagitis, a condition which causes inflammation in the esophagus, or achalasia, a condition in which the muscles in your esophagus do not relax properly.
- Rectal bleeding – Rectal bleeding could be a harmless side effect of hemorrhoids, or it could be an early warning sign of serious conditions such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease or colon cancer. Always discuss rectal bleeding with your doctor immediately.
- Noisy digestion – The digestive system makes all sorts of noises while it’s at work, but if you notice grumbling and groaning within just a few minutes of eating, your body may be reacting to something in your food. Keep track of which foods appear to trigger this reaction and discuss it with your doctor at your next appointment.
- Pain from kidney stones – Severe pain in the side and back that spreads to the abdomen and groin often indicates kidney stones. You may also notice that urine looks cloudy, pink, red or brown, and has a foul odor to it. Seek medical attention immediately if these symptoms are accompanied by nausea, vomiting, fever, or chills, as this could indicate infection.
- Heartburn – Nearly everyone experiences heartburn from time to time, but chronic episodes could be a sign of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). GERD is a chronic digestive condition marked by frequent acid reflux, and it requires treatment to prevent damage to the esophagus. If left untreated, GERD can lead to ulcers, esophageal strictures, Barrett’s esophagus, and esophageal cancer.
- Changes in bowel habits – Frequent diarrhea or constipation is a sign that something is not working properly in your digestive system. Talk to your doctor about any unusual changes in your bowel habits, as these may be indicators of celiac disease, diverticulitis, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, or colon cancer.