Your digestive system is something you probably take for granted. The process of digesting, absorbing, and metabolizing your food is followed by using nutrients as fuel and excreting waste. When everything is in perfect working order, you may not give it much thought. However, when a bellyache, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea strike, it is hard to concentrate on anything else! These are common symptoms that something has gone awry with your gastrointestinal (GI) tract. However, there are other, more unexpected ways your body can alert you to GI problems. Read on for 10 of these unexpected signs of GI disorders.
If your stomach suddenly appears swollen and you can’t zip up your favorite pair of skinny jeans, you may be suffering from bloat. Bloating can occur when food lingers in the stomach rather than moving through the digestive tract. This can occur if you eat too much too quickly or if you indulge in fatty foods instead of fiber-rich fare. Bloating can also occur when excess gas builds up in the GI tract during food digestion. While occasional bloating may not be of concern, persistent, painful bloating may be a sign of an intestinal blockage.
9. Difficulty Swallowing
Occasionally, you may have difficulty swallowing due to eating too quickly, not chewing your food well, or suffering from an infection such as strep throat. However, if you find it consistently difficult to swallow food or water, you may be suffering from a more serious condition. Difficulty swallowing, known as dysphagia, occurs when swallowing becomes painful or results in choking, gagging, and heartburn. According to the Mayo Clinic, possible causes of dysphagia include esophageal tumors, esophageal scarring, GERD, neurological disorders, and cancer. Dysphagia can cause weight loss, malnutrition, pneumonia, and choking.
8. Excessive Flatulence
Passing gas is a normal body process that, whether you admit it or not, usually occurs 13-21 times each day. Flatulence occurs when air builds up in the digestive tract. This occurs when you swallow air while chewing, or when healthy gut bacteria produce gas during digestion. While most gas production is perfectly normal, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease (NIDDK) suggests consulting your doctor if excessive gas production has become painful, bothersome, or accompanied by other GI issues. In some cases, excessive gas can be caused by digestive disorders or intestinal disease.
Just as passing gas is a normal body function, belching is a natural occurrence that relieves the stomach of excess gas buildup. However, chronic, persistent, uncomfortable, or excessive burping may be a sign of a medical disorder. Peptic ulcer disease, stomach infections, and acid reflux can contribute to excessive belching. If you suspect your burping is a symptom of a GI issue, contact your physician. Belching that is not triggered by an underlying medical condition may be relieved by slowing down while eating, avoiding carbonated sodas, and refraining from chewing gum.
There are many potential reasons you may suffer from fatigue. If your fatigue is accompanied by weakness, pale skin, dizziness, and shortness of breath, you may be suffering from anemia. Iron deficiency anemia occurs when the body doesn’t make enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen to your organs and tissues. If you are consuming enough dietary iron, anemia may be caused by blood loss or by intestinal absorption issues. According to the Mayo Clinic, peptic ulcers, colon cancer, and celiac disease are GI problems that may cause iron deficiency anemia.
5. Chest Pain
When you experience pain or an uncomfortable burning sensation in your chest, your stomach is probably not the first organ you think of. However, GI disorders such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), pancreatitis, and gallbladder disease can all contribute to chest pain. GERD occurs when a faulty valve allows stomach acid to back up into your esophagus, causing a painful, burning sensation. Inflammation of the pancreas can cause pain in the upper abdominal area that radiates to the chest. Furthermore, gallstones that block a duct in the gallbladder can cause severe pain that extends from the abdomen to the chest.
4. Unexplained Weight Loss
While we all may wish to drop a few pounds, if it happens unexpectedly, it can be a sign of a serious medical condition. According to the Cleveland Clinic, unexplained weight loss is defined as a loss of more than 10 pounds or 5% of body weight over six to 12 months that is not due to changes in diet or exercise. While there are many possible triggers for unexplained weight loss, several GI disorders are possible culprits. Peptic ulcer disease, Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, and ulcerative colitis are all disorders that may contribute to weight loss.
3. Black or Tarry Stool
A glance in the toilet that reveals black or tarry stool can be frightening. GI bleeding can result in blood passing through your system and being excreted in your stool. Benign causes of black stools include consuming black licorice, iron tablets, or Pepto-Bismol. If you pass black, tarry stools, consult your doctor to determine if you may be suffering from internal bleeding. Your physician can determine whether your stool discoloration is caused by conditions such as peptic ulcers, inflammation of the esophagus, or cancer.
2. Pale Stool
Stool that appears ghostly pale can be just as alarming as stool that is black or bloody. Alert your physician if you pass pale or clay-colored stool, as this can be an indication of serious disease. According to Medline Plus, pale stool can indicate problems with your biliary system. This body system includes the gallbladder, liver, and pancreas. Medline Plus lists hepatitis, biliary cirrhosis, tumors of the biliary system, and gallstones as possible causes of pale bowel movements. Your physician may use liver function tests, ultrasounds, or a CT scan to diagnose the issue.
1. Frequent Fevers
Persistent or recurring fevers are a sign that your body is working to fight off an infection. When the stomach or GI tract are involved, fever is usually accompanied by stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. Viral gastroenteritis is an infection, caused by a virus, that irritates and inflames the lining of the digestive tract. Cedars-Sinai Medical Center lists rotavirus, norovirus, and adenovirus as viruses that commonly cause gastroenteritis. Bacteria can also cause infections of the stomach and GI tract. Bacterial gastroenteritis may be contracted by consuming tainted food.