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When to See a Specialist for GI Problems

Medically Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on October 20, 2020

You’ve seen your doctor about your tummy troubles. Your doctor isn’t sure what’s wrong, and your gas, diarrhea, pain, and other symptoms haven’t gone away. So what now?

When to Go Back to Your Doctor

Some stomach and digestive, or gastrointestinal (GI), problems can be tricky to diagnose. Many GI issues can cause the same symptoms you might get from peptic ulcers, celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and other conditions.

If issues like pain or diarrhea are always there or come and go, it’s more likely that it’s something like Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis.

Sometimes, doctors will have to dig a little more to find out what’s up with your gut. Make another appointment if:

  • Your symptoms get worse
  • You have new symptoms
  • Your GI problems happen more often

Keep track of specifics to share with your doctor, including:

  • How many times a week you have symptoms
  • Any changes or additions to your medications and supplements
  • Any family history of GI problems
  • If you live with someone with similar symptoms
  • If you’ve had any recent stressful life event
  • If sleeping propped up lessens any heartburn

Search Your Diet for Possible Causes

Sometimes, what you eat and drink may explain your symptoms. It may help to tease out the problem foods if you play digestive detective.

Keep a diary. Track what you eat and drink, and how much. Do your diarrhea, pain, or other GI symptoms get worse after a large meal or a particular food or drink? Does eating too close to bedtime trigger heartburn? Also, note the medicine you take, and any mood and mental symptoms such as anxiety or feeling depressed.

If your symptoms crop up after you have milk or ice cream, you may be lactose intolerant. Problems with beer or bread with the protein gluten could be a sign of celiac disease.

If it’s inflammatory bowel disease, like Crohn’s, a flare may be triggered by a number of things, including caffeinated drinks or a large or greasy meal.

When to See a Specialist

Gastroenterologists are doctors who are experts on digestive diseases. Your regular doctor may refer you to one if they can’t pinpoint your causes or if you might need special tests. You also may want to consider visiting a gastroenterologist if you have:

Blood in your stool or vomit. It could be a problem like an ulcer, hemorrhoids, or even cancer.

A change in bathroom habits. Changes in the color, consistency, or frequency of your poop aren’t always serious problems, but they can be.

Unexpected weight loss. If you drop 10 pounds or more over 6-12 months without trying, it’s a worry. This can be a sign of Crohn’s disease or another health problem.

Constant heartburn. Almost everyone has it sometimes. But if you regularly get heartburn, stomach acid that splashes up into your throat and may affect your esophagus.

Trouble swallowing. A damaged esophagus can make it hard to swallow. Other conditions, including some that are serious, also can make it hard for you to swallow.

Anemia. Low iron in your blood may make you dizzy, tired, short of breath, and feel like your heart is racing. GI problems may make your body less able to absorb iron and other vitamins and minerals. They also can cause GI bleeding.

Your gastroenterologist may ask for a sample of your poop. You may need a colonoscopy to look in your large intestine for signs of bleeding, blockages, or tumors. Other tests look at your esophagus and stomach to check for problems there.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Jesse P. Houghton, MD, senior medical director of gastroenterology, Southern Ohio Medical Center Gastroenterology Associates, Portsmouth, OH.

Ugo Iroku, MD, gastroenterologist, New York Gastroenterology Associates, New York City.

David Clarke, MD, president, Psychophysiologic Disorders Association.

Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation: “Food.”

American College of Gastroenterology: “What is a Gastroenterologist?”

University of Pennsylvania: “5 GI Symptoms No Woman Should Ignore.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Unexplained Weight Loss.”

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