When to Take Stomach Pain Seriously   

When to Take Stomach Pain Seriously

Woman with stomach pain
Clinical Contributors to this story:
At one time or another, everyone has experienced bowel discomfort. The cause might be an intestinal “bug” or mild food poisoning. But it isn’t always a good idea to brush off certain symptoms—they can be signs of a disorder or disease.

Hung Q. Nguyen, M.D., is a general and oncologic surgeon specializing in robotic surgery at Bayshore Medical Center. He understands that it might be hard for the average person to know what could be a passing problem as opposed to something more serious. There are, however, intestinal symptoms that warrant a trip to the doctor:

Severe pain: “Each individual has a different tolerance level, and frequently people don’t seek medical help until pain is intolerable,” Dr. Nguyen says.

Pain that doesn’t go away: Pay attention to pain that doesn’t go away in a reasonable amount of time or pain that is recurrent.

A pattern of pain: Pain that comes and goes and comes back again is a new pattern that should be checked out.

Out-of-the-ordinary bowel habits: “Bowel changes in terms of frequency, color or consistency could denote a new pattern,” Dr. Nguyen says.

Other indicators of a problem: Other symptoms that might indicate a problem are shortness of breath, fatigue, bloating or appetite changes.

It’s a good idea to make notes about these kinds of changes so you can discuss them with your doctor. Several conditions of the colon could be causing these kinds of difficulties, so providing a full picture to your doctor will help with diagnosis.

What Diseases Affect the Stomach?

“There is a whole spectrum of diseases that can affect the lower intestines,” Dr. Nguyen says.

Here are some chronic disorders of the intestines:

  • Diverticulitis occurs when small pouches (diverticula) bulge from the large intestine and then become inflamed or infected. Diverticula can arise because of a low-fiber diet, and about 50 percent of people over age 60 have them. Once they become inflamed, they can cause pain (usually on the left side), as well as fever, nausea, vomiting, chills, cramping and constipation. Mild cases can be treated with antibiotics and pain relievers, but serious cases (marked by perforation, bleeding or blockages) might require surgery.
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) causes bloating, pain and sometimes alternating constipation and diarrhea. Although painful, the condition does not damage the intestine. No one knows what causes IBS, and it is usually controlled through diet, stress management, probiotics and medication.
  • Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease that causes weight loss, fever and bleeding from the rectum. Inflammation can affect any part of the digestive system, from the mouth to the anus, but usually strikes the last section of the small intestine. Crohn’s can run in families and frequently is diagnosed between the ages of 13 and 30. Medication, nutrient supplements and surgery are some of the treatments.

Dr. Nguyen says that primary care physicians might order tests to pin down the kind of intestinal problem the patient has. “The results drive the action. The doctor will keep looking until they find the reason,” he says. “If symptoms linger, however, a patient might need to reach out to specialists to help figure out what is wrong.”

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.


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