It seems like everyone has some sort of gastrointestinal concern nowadays – and the holiday season doesn’t help. Here’s a rundown on some of the most common digestive issues – and what to do about them.
Food poisoning is caused by eating food contaminated by organisms including bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Symptoms may start with hours of eating the contaminated food or wait until days or even weeks later. These include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, cramps, and fever.
Food poisoning generally lasts only a few hours or days. You should see a doctor if you have frequent vomiting and are unable to keep liquids down, you have blood in your vomit or stools, your diarrhea lasts more than three days, you have severe abdominal cramps or pain, your temperature is higher than 101.5, or you show signs of dehydration or neurological symptoms.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a disease that causes a range of digestive symptoms including gastrointestinal pain and cramps along with chronic constipation, diarrhea, or bouts of both. Some people also feel excessively full, experience flatulence, or have mucous discharge from their anus.
Many people cope with IBS by simply using over-the-counter treatments, but if it seriously interferes with your daily life, it may well be worth seeking medical advice – and possible prescription treatment.
Celiac disease, or gluten sensitivity, is an immune system reaction triggered by eating food containing gluten, a protein in wheat, barley, and rye. Symptoms range from moderate to severe and may include
- Acid reflux and heartburn
- Mouth ulcers
- Joint pain
- Itchy, blistery skin rash
- Damage to tooth enamel
- Anemia from iron deficiency
- Osteoporosis (loss of bone density)
- Osteomalacia (softening of bone)
- Numbness and tingling in the feet and hands
- Problems with balance
- Cognitive impairment
- Reduced spleen function
While celiac disease has no known cure, most people find that a gluten-free diet manages their symptoms and heals their intestinal tract. If you are experiencing a combination of the above symptoms, you should visit to your doctor for a diagnosis.
Ulcerative Colitis is a disease that cause chronic inflammation and ulcers of the digestive tract. It affects the inner lining of your intestine and rectum. Symptoms, which often develop slowly over time, can be debilitating and even life-threatening. They often include
- Abdominal pain and cramping
- Rectal pain
- Diarrhea, often with blood or pus in the stool
- Rectal bleeding or passing small amount of blood with stool
- Frequent urge to defecate
- Inability to defecate despite feeling of urgency
- Weight loss
If you think you may have ulcerative colitis, you should see a gastroenterologist as soon as possible for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.
Crohn’s disease is another disease that can be incapacitating or even life-threatening. It causes inflammation of the lining of different parts of the digestive tract, and often spreads deep into the layers of bowel tissue. Symptoms of Crohn’s may include
- Intense intestinal cramps
- Abdominal pain
- Pain ranging from slight discomfort to severe pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Blood in the stool
- Mouth ulcers (similar to canker sores)
- Reduced appetite
- Weight loss
- Pain or drainage near or around the anus
- Fistulas (inflammation from a tunnel into the skin) that may become infected
This is another serious condition for which you should definitely seek a doctor’s diagnosis and treatment.
Keep in mind that any time you experience diarrhea or constipation that lasts for more than two weeks, you should always consult a physician – just to be on the safe side.