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Trust Your Gut: When To See a Doctor for Your Stomach Problems

Man putting hands on stomach in pain

An upset stomach can throw off your routine, but at what point do you say “enough is enough”?

Considering more than 40% of the global population suffer from a digestive disease or condition, it’s common to experience symptoms such as stomach pain, diarrhea, and constipation. While many of these symptoms can be managed with over-the-counter products or a change in diet, there could be a more serious issue and it’s hard to tell if it’s passing or chronic.

If you’re unsure whether or not you should see a doctor, here are some signs that your digestive issues may require medical intervention:

#1: Persistent symptoms

If you’ve been experiencing gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms for more than a few days or weeks with no sign of improvement, it is important to see a doctor. Persistent symptoms could be a sign of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or a more serious underlying condition, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). It’s possible you could have a GI infection, such as E. coli or C. difficile. These pathogens can wreak havoc on your digestive system and require urgent medical care, so you can receive antibiotics and eliminate these bacteria effectively.

#2: Severe symptoms

If you have severe abdominal pain, vomiting, or blood in your stool, you should seek immediate medical attention. These symptoms could be a sign of a serious condition, such as appendicitis or a bowel obstruction. If pain does not go away for the over-the-counter medications or keeps returning, that’s a sign there’s something wrong. 

#3: Weight loss

Unexpected weight loss can be a sign of a digestive issue, such as Crohn’s disease or celiac disease. If you have experienced significant weight loss and have not made any changes to your diet or exercise routine, it is important to see a doctor.

#4: Changes in bowel habits

If you experience sudden changes in your bowel habits, such as diarrhea or constipation that lasts for more than a few days, it is important to see a doctor. These changes could be a sign of a digestive issue, such as IBD or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

#5: Fever: 

If you have a fever in addition to GI symptoms, it could be a sign of viral gastroenteritis, also known as stomach flu. Seek medical attention immediately if you have a fever and GI symptoms.

What Are the Types of GI Imaging?

If you do seek medical attention for your GI issues, your doctor may recommend medical imaging to help diagnose the cause of your symptoms. Here are some common types of medical imaging used for GI issues:

Barium X-ray or barium swallow: 

Barium X-rays, also known as barium swallow or upper and lower GI series, provide a radiographic image of the GI tract. With this particular imaging exam, a patient ingests a chalky white substance known as barium, a substance that absorbs X-rays and appears white on X-ray film. It helps show a clearer picture of the organs, their inner linings and the motion of your swallowing. A barium swallow can help diagnose conditions like hiatal hernias, inflammation, blockages, muscle disorders that affect swallowing, GERD, ulcers and other abnormalities.

CT scan:

CT scans use X-rays and computer technology to create detailed images of areas inside the body. A CT scan of the abdomen allows doctors to assess the organs in your digestive system, helping to identify lesions, injuries, bleeding, infections, obstructions and other sources of pain or discomfort. If an X-ray alone comes back inconclusive, performing a CT scan is one way to view the GI structures in greater detail.

Abdominal ultrasound

An abdominal or intestinal ultrasound enables doctors to visualize your GI tract and detect abnormalities like blockages, inflammation or damage. This is helpful when diagnosing an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA), which is a bulge in the aorta – the main vessel that pump blood from the heart to the rest of the body. In less severe cases, abdominal ultrasound can help determine the source of stomach pain.

Upper GI endoscopy: 

An upper GI endoscopy involves an endoscope – a thin flexible tube with a camera – inserted through your mouth and into your stomach, providing images of your digestive tract. It’s a procedure usually performed by a gastroenterologist. It is the most comprehensive of the four GI imaging types because it can help identify a wide range of GI diseases. It’s used to diagnose GERD, ulcers, cancer, inflammation, Barrett’s esophagus, celiac disease, blockages and other ailments.

Can I Access and Share My GI Imaging? 

Whichever imaging exam you have done, it’s important to have ownership over your records. You may want to share the results with a specialist, your referring physician or family doctor. Using PocketHealth, you can submit a request to access your imaging records on the same day as your exam and receive your records as soon as they are ready. Oftentimes, getting a diagnosis for GI issues is a gradual process requiring multiple imaging studies, lab work and visits to several providers. PocketHealth enables patients to maintain all that information in one digital hub, creating a seamless and simplified care experience.

Overall, it is important to seek medical attention for gastrointestinal issues if you have persistent, severe, or unusual symptoms. A doctor can diagnose the cause of your symptoms and provide appropriate treatment, including medical imaging if needed, to help you feel better.

Access My Records
Access My Records