You’ve been told to trust your gut, but what if your gut is sending you some unusual messages? It can be difficult to know who to talk to when you're experiencing gut pain, indigestion or other "gut" issues. Keep reading if you are feeling unsure about where to start to seek help for your gut pain, or to find out if your symptoms could be a clue into something more serious.
What’s Going On With Your Gut Issues?
Many people experience gut issues or discomfort that they may not realize is more serious than just a bad feeling. Gastrointestinal (GI) diseases are any disease of a part of your GI tract that runs from your mouth to your anus. Some of these diseases have intimidating names, like irritable bowel syndrome or Crohn’s disease, that may make you think your cramping/bloating/gas is nothing more than everyday pain or due to some suspicious lettuce. There’s many symptoms that would warrant seeking medical advice. The symptoms for upper vs. lower GI symptoms can and often times does overlap, but here is a general breakdown of some of the differentiating factors of each:
For upper GI pain some of these symptoms include:
Dyspepsia i.e. chronic and/or recurrent abdominal pain or discomfort which can be described as indigestion, gassiness, gnawing or burning
Dysphagia i.e. difficulty swallowing
Lump the throat
Halitosis i.e. frequent bad breath
Nausea and vomiting
Rumination i.e. the regurgitation of small amounts of food from the stomach shortly after eating.
For lower GI pain some of these symptoms include:
Gas and boating
Rectal pain or bleeding
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Who Can Help With Gut Issues?
It’s important to be aware of these symptoms as even mild symptoms can be an indication of a larger issue. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, or a combination of them, there are specific doctors you can reach out to for medical advice.
Primary Care Provider
Unsure of where to start? When in doubt, make an appointment with your Primary Care Provider (PCP). Digestive problems are common within general healthcare practice, and your PCP has an essential role as someone who can help you navigate initial testing and treatment of more benign GI issues or disorders.They can help assess your symptoms, help advise you on what symptoms you should be on the lookout for, help you examine the relationship between some food groups and your symptoms, and help you find the right specialist, if necessary. If something is impacting your ability to eat, absorb nutrients or digest, we suggest reaching out to your PCP.
The Gastroenterologist i.e. the GI Specialist
Gastroenterologists focus on the function of the digestive system or GI tract. The GI tract is responsible for the digestion of food, absorption of nutrients and the removal of waste from the body. Gastroenterologists focus on specific areas of the digestive system which includes the esophagus, stomach, small and large intestine, liver, gallbladder and pancreas, to name a few. There are a few diagnostic procedures that gastroenterologists can prescribe and complete to identify or rule out larger GI issues or diseases. Fortunately, not all of these are surgical. Some procedures, such as stool tests, colonoscopies and ultrasounds, can be used to look for excess inflammation or any signs of other abnormalities. Gastroenterologists are essential for the diagnosis and treatment of many GI symptoms and disorders.
No, we’re not suggesting you visit a therapist to talk about your ongoing GI issues. There is a strong, emerging field of research that suggests anxiety and stress is related to gut pain, which some experts are coining as the “gut-brain connection.” The GI system is sensitive to emotions and there is a link between certain psychological triggers and GI function. For example, just thinking about food can initiate digestion. Additionally, there are studies that connect exposure to stress with the development of different GI disorders. If you think you may be carrying around a lot of stress, or experiencing anxiety, find a therapist to help with coping mechanisms to improve both your mental and physical health.
Some adverse GI symptoms can be from gluten sensitivity, which researchers believe stems from the immune system. Gluten sensitivity, also known as a wheat allergy, occurs when your immune system recognizes a protein in wheat as a foreign object and triggers a reaction. This reaction is also known as an autoimmune reaction and allergists are trained in how to recognize, diagnose and treat these reactions. It’s important to note that an allergist’s speciality is only for food intolerance that triggers an allergy, or autoimmune response, so seeing an allergist for a consultation might not work for you and your symptoms.
Many people live with and accept GI symptoms as part of their life, but you do not have to live in pain. It is important to find the correct doctor to find out the cause of these symptoms and to make sure these GI symptoms aren’t due to something more serious. Find the right doctor and tackle these symptoms so you can start to trust your gut again. If you have any questions at all, or need help finding the right specialist to see about your GI symptoms, starting with your primary care provider would be a great place to start.