When to visit your Gastroenterologist – What’s normal and what may be more serious.

In recent years, there has been a significant increase in the awareness of chronic gastrointestinal conditions as well as an increase in the medications to help control them. This increase in awareness has become a double edge sword-- both bringing to light more accurate diagnoses by gastroenterologists and causing more inaccurate self-diagnosis.

The question that plagues us all now is when is it appropriate to visit your gastroenterologist about your concerns, and when are you experiencing something as simple as common indigestion. Occasional bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and other GI symptoms are common and a part of life. Once you begin to notice these symptoms occurring on a more frequent basis, or becoming more severe, you may want to think about contacting a gastroenterologist for an exam. It’s always better to err on the side of caution when it comes to your health, not to mention the potential for treating these symptoms and getting relief!

Lower Gastrointestinal Conditions and Signs to Look For

Lower gastrointestinal symptoms may vary from excessive gaseousness, to abdominal cramping after eating, to loose and urgent stools. Some of these symptoms may occur as a result of food intolerances, such as lactose intolerance, fructose intolerance, artificial sweetener consumption, and excessive consumption of poorly soluble fiber. A trial of food elimination may be a good place to start to determine whether a specific food group is a culprit for bothersome symptoms. However, if symptoms persist, they may be a sign of an underlying gastrointestinal pathology, such as inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis), or even colon cancer.

When evaluating whether or not you should consult with a Gastroenterologist, look for these symptoms:

  • Rectal Bleeding,

  • Nighttime Diarrhea or diarrhea which persists in the absence of eating,

  • Unexplained Weight Loss,

  • Lab Results that come back abnormal (i.e. unexplained anemia),

  • Any persistent symptoms when a family history of inflammatory bowel disease or colorectal cancer is present.

Both IBS and IBD symptoms can be treated and managed after seeing your gastroenterologist. Inflammatory Bowel Disorder can be hereditary, so if you have such family history, we recommend being proactive about seeking an evaluation.

Upper Gastrointestinal Conditions and Signs to Look For

Upper GI issues may range from occasional mild heartburn after eating a large meal to trouble swallowing, to vomiting after eating. When experiencing occasional heartburn symptoms, such as burning in the chest, regurgitation of food, a sour taste in your mouth, you may start by altering you diet. Specific recommendations include reducing caffeine and alcohol intake, limiting tomato sauce consumption, reducing portion sizes and not eating for 2-3 hrs before going to bed at night. If symptoms persist, one should seek medical attention. Additionally, if you experience any one of the following symptoms you should seek a consultation with a gastroenterologist.

  • Persistent abdominal pain,

  • Heartburn that does not respond to over the counter medications or dietary modifications,

  • Unexplained weight loss,

  • Vomiting,

  • Difficulty swallowing,

  • A sensation of food getting stuck,

  • Iron deficiency anemia,

  • A family history of GI cancers.

Just as with lower GI tract illnesses, if you have a family history of upper GI illness and have some of these symptoms with regularity, it’s a good idea to make an appointment with your gastroenterology specialist.

Don’t feel ashamed to speak with your doctor about these issues. If you do have a gastrointestinal issue, you can begin proper treatment with the proper diagnosis. If you’re in the Boston area, contact Gastroenterology HealthCare Associates for all of your Gastrointestinal concerns.