One can say stomach symptoms are the bane of our existence. From the after-effects of an adventurous night out to the devilish cramps that appeared out of nowhere, some symptoms should never be ignored. Stomach problems are usually not something to mess around with. If you ignore them or try to treat them on your own, things can get a lot worse. In this article, we’ll discuss 5 stomach symptoms that you should never ignore, red flags symptoms that warrants immediate medical attention and a few tips for optimal gut health.
Diarrhea simply put is the passage of three or more watery stools per day. This may differ from person to person such that a significant change in the consistency and frequency of stooling is usually referred to as diarrhea. Loss of body fluids coupled with body salt and electrolyte imbalance is the most worrisome effect of diarrhea with other effects such as low blood pressure, reduced blood volume and hemorrhoids.
Most cases of diarrhea are self-limiting and usually resolve in about 24 to 48 hours with or without use of OTC drugs and electrolytes. However, if you ever experience worsening symptoms coupled with fever and cramps, it signals need for immediate medical attention. Medical conditions with diarrhea as symptoms include traveller’s diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome with diarrhea, Clostridium difficile infection. Your doctor may prescribe prescription medication such as Xifaxan (rifaximin) to manage the symptoms.
This occurs when there are less than three bowel movements per week which may be accompanied by straining, incomplete bowel movement, abdominal discomfort and hard stools. It’s important to note that “normal frequency” also varies from person to person. This ranges from 1 to 3 bowel movements per day or even as infrequent as once every 3 days.
If left untreated, constipation may lead to partial or complete blockage of the guts, hemorrhoids and displacement of internal organ. Use of laxatives and increasing water and fibre intake can help improve consistency of stools and relieve symptoms.
Medications that can help with opioid drug-induced constipation or idiopathic constipation (unknown cause) include Montegrity (Prucalopride).
Bloating can be described as a swollen state caused by retention of fluid or gas. In most cases, gas from common abdominal bloating is as a result of eating certain kinds of food and or other problems with the gut. Some food types produce more gas than others such as broccoli, cabbage, beans, lentils. Lactose intolerance, ie inability to digest lactose found in milk, can also cause significant bloating. Other causes of bloating include swallowing air (chewing gums, eating too fast), menstrual cycle, constipation, overeating, inflammatory bowel disease. If bloating is accompanied by nausea and feeling sick to the stomach and is determined to be due to poor GI motility, the doctor may prescribe Motilium (Domperidone) to help things move along more quickly.
4) Abdominal Pain
This is by far the most common sign of a problem in the gut and is defined as any pain in the stomach region. The pain could range from an ache to stabs and to uncontrollable feeling of gut strangulation.
Most common causes are excess stomach acid, constipation, indigestion or menstrual cramps if female while more serious causes may include food poisoning, kidney stones and cancer of organs in the abdomen, to mention a few. Abdominal pain can also be as a result of inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, in which case anti-inflammatory drugs such as Lialda (Mesalamine) and Entocort (Budesonide) can be prescribed.
Abdominal pain resolves by itself shortly after it begins and with simple over the counter medications. If it however lasts for more than a few hours and or progressively gets worse especially with other accompanying symptoms, a proper examination and diagnosis is needed from the doctor.
5) Blood in Stool
Blood in the stool may appear as either fresh bright red blood or stale brown blood which discolours the stool. Whichever the case, both could be frightening and should never be ignored. In some cases, blood in the stool can only be detected after laboratory stool tests and may not be visible to the eyes.
Fresh blood stains upon wiping could be from cracks in the butthole and external gut areas in the process of straining due to constipation or haemorrhoids, while a dripping spurt of blood should be investigated immediately by a physician. Discoloured feces due to stale blood signals blood loss from the upper regions of the gut and is a potentially serious condition like ulcers and internal bleedings and warrants immediate investigation.
Other major red flags with abdominal symptoms that require immediate medical attention include:
• Fever and or chills
• Unintentional weight loss, any solid masses in the stomach region.
• Sudden onset and or continuous vomiting with or without nausea
• Sudden unexplained changes in bowel movement
• Constant abdominal pain
• Excessive gas or no gas at all
• Family history of colon cancer or inflammatory bowel disease
• Older than 50 years of age with recent onset of symptoms
• Abnormal laboratory bloodwork results (eg, low iron)
In summary, whether your digestive system gets a little upset occasionally and you know how to get rid of it within a day or two, or you've had a bad experience with antibiotics/antacids that led to heartburn that took months to resolve after stopping them, whatever the case, you need to listen to your guts! Take good care of your guts by regular physical activity, eating more of fibre, fruits and vegetable, include probiotics in your diet, manage stress and engage in proper relaxation.
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