Experiencing an upset stomach once in a while is normal. It could be brought on by something you ate or due to a change in location. But if your digestive symptoms continue for a long time and start affecting your quality of life, it might be time to go to the doctor.
Your digestive system includes the digestive tract and other organs responsible for breaking down and absorbing food. It breaks down essential nutrients such as protein and carbohydrates in your food, uses them for energy, cell repair, and growth, and eliminates waste. However, an unhealthy digestive system cannot fulfill these functions properly.
The Importance of a Healthy Digestive Tract
As you know, the digestive system breaks down and absorbs your food. But that’s not all. Many scientists refer to the digestive system as the brain’s communication center. The gut sends important signals to the brain, which then decides what to eat and drink, the quantity you need to consume, and so on.
On the other hand, your gut also plays a vital role in managing your stress levels and mood. The gut can signal the brain regarding a stressor just like the brain does for the gut. Therefore, gut issues can often be a symptom of psychological problems like depression and anxiety. Not only this, but the gut also produces around 90% of your body’s serotonin, a hormone that regulates our mood and feelings.
Overall, your gut has a major impact on your physical and mental health. That’s why it’s necessary to seek medical advice immediately if you experience any distressing digestive symptoms. Many healthcare organizations, such as AIM for Wellbeing, also provide online consultations and treatment options that match your unique issues and other requirements. So, if you don’t have time for a physical appointment, you don’t need to worry as you can easily set up an appointment for an online consultation.
Signs You Should See a Doctor
While digestive issues are not a fun topic to discuss, they’re quite common. In fact, according to a recent survey, 40% of Americans suffer from digestive issues that disrupt their daily life. Most of these aren’t worth worrying too much about, but a small subset of them could have major health implications. Here are some symptoms that may require a visit to the doctor.
1. Prolonged diarrhea
Diarrhea can be a sign of many issues. It might be something you ate, a reaction to medications, or a sign of an infection. Diarrhea is also one of the many symptoms of COVID-19, which can appear even before the characteristic respiratory symptoms.
It is recommended to go to the doctor if diarrhea lasts two consecutive days or if you experience it intermittently within a short period. Prolonged diarrhea might also indicate irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, or a bacterial infection, all of which should not be taken lightly.
While the frequency of bowel movements can vary for every person, bowel movements less than thrice a week can be a sign of constipation. Another sign of constipation is if your bowel movements are small or difficult to pass. You may experience constipation due to diabetes, certain medicines, or other medical conditions such as IBS. On the other hand, you may experience constipation simply due to a diet low in fiber.
Although constipation might not seem like a big deal, it can be harmful if left untreated for a long time. You should seek medical advice if your constipation lasts more than seven days, as it can be harder to manage at home.
Experiencing heartburn occasionally is normal and can even be treated with home remedies. However, if you experience it constantly or more than a couple of times a week, it might be due to an underlying condition.
Severe or constant heartburn might indicate Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). This disease is characterized by stomach acid frequently flowing back into your esophagus, which can cause heartburn. GERD cannot be treated at home and does not go away on its own. If GERD is left untreated, it can cause painful ulcers and permanent damage to the esophagus.
4. Sudden extreme abdominal pain
You’ve definitely experienced random bellyaches that go away on their own at some point in your life. However, a sudden, extreme pain in your abdomen, which doesn’t go away or keeps increasing, can be a sign of something more serious. For instance, it can be a sign of stomach ulcers, gallstones, or liver disease. If the pain is on your lower right-hand side, it could even be a sign of appendicitis.
All these conditions need immediate medical attention. So, if you ever experience extreme abdominal pain that doesn’t go away, you shouldn’t waste any time finding a doctor and scheduling a consultation.
5. Blood in your stool
There is no doubt that seeing blood in your stool can be frightening. However, chances are that it is nothing serious. You might see blood in your stool due to anal fissures or hemorrhoids. Hemorrhoids can easily be treated with home remedies or over-the-counter medicines. However, if none of these work, you might need to see a doctor to treat your hemorrhoids.
While blood in your stool isn’t usually something to worry about, it can be a sign of something serious if a change in your bowel movements accompanies it. In some cases, though not all, this could indicate the presence of colon cancers. However, colon cancer is mostly prevalent in older adults over 50.
6. Unexplained or sudden weight loss
Sudden weight loss, especially if you have not changed your diet or exercise routine, can be a symptom of a serious underlying issue. If you have lost 5% or more of your body weight in the last 6 to 12 months, it is recommended that you see a doctor.
7. Feeling full after barely eating
If you feel full even if you’ve eaten very little, you should be wary of it being gastroparesis. In this condition, food stays in the stomach longer than usual. Gastroparesis can often be a side effect of a serious illness such as COVID-19. It can also be triggered by health issues such as influenza or diabetes. Although gastroparesis can get better on its own, it’s recommended that you see a doctor to help you get your diet back on track.
Your digestive system is important in determining your overall health and well-being. Not only does it affect your physical health, but it also helps regulate your mood and stress levels. So, it is vital to maintain a healthy digestive system and watch out for changes in your appetite and bowel movements. While experiencing some digestive issues is normal, if symptoms last long, worsen, or start interfering with your daily life, you should see a doctor as soon as possible. Early intervention and treatment can help solve digestive illnesses before they become major debilitating issues.