Nearly one in five people are affected by a digestive disorder in the United States. In most cases, medications and treatment options can help relieve symptoms. It’s important to see a doctor for persistent symptoms, which could indicate a more serious condition, best treated in its earliest stages.
When to see a doctor
Many people find it uncomfortable or embarrassing to talk to the doctor about gastrointestinal (GI) issues. We urge you not to be embarrassed – the doctor is there to help you feel better!
If you have any of the following symptoms, contact your doctor:
- Difficult or painful swallowing
- Digestive discomfort that interferes with daily activities
- Dramatic weight loss
- Persistent diarrhea or constipation
- Persistent heartburn that has become more severe, is not relieved by medication or causes vomiting
- Persistent hoarseness and/or sore throat
- Unusual or changed stools (bloody, black or with mucous)
- Unusual or persistent abdominal pain
- Vomiting of blood
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Diagnosing digestive conditions and disorders
The digestive system includes a host of important bodily functions and organs, including the esophagus, stomach, intestines, gallbladder, liver, pancreas and bile ducts. If your doctor suspects you may have a digestive disorder, he or she will order screenings and tests needed for an accurate diagnosis. Many of these procedures are considered endoscopies, which use a small flexible tube with a camera to examine the inside of the body. Colonoscopy is an example of an endoscopic procedure.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) are conditions that affect your lower gastrointestinal tract. This includes the small intestine, large intestine and colon. Irritable bowel disorders, including Crohn’s Disease and ulcerative colitis, may be diagnosed through a colonoscopy. Other common screenings include:
- Blood tests
- Digital rectal examinations (DRE)
- Imaging procedures
- Stool tests
GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) and heartburn are among the most common disorders of the esophagus.These conditions are caused when stomach acid leaks back up into the esophagus, often causing a painful or burning sensation in the upper chest or throat.
Common screenings include:
- Barium swallow
- Bernstein test
- Esophageal manometry
- Monitoring of pH levels
- Upper endoscopy or EGD (esophagogastroduodenoscopy)
Colorectal cancer is cancer that starts in the colon or rectum. There are various treatment options available depending on the type, size, location and stage of your cancer. The most common type of preventive screening is colonoscopy, which is recommended for all men and women age 50 and older.
Read more about colorectal cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Liver, gallbladder, pancreas and bile ducts
The digestive tract is supported by organs that store enzymes and other substances to help break down food and remove waste. We use blood tests and abdominal ultrasound to check for the proper functioning of these organs.