Examples of symptoms in upper GI disorders include:
- Problems digesting food
- Difficulty swallowing
- Stomach pain and indigestion
Examples of symptoms in lower GI disorders include:
- Abdominal/stomach pain
- Stomach bloating
- Diarrhea and/or Constipation
- Incontinence or loss of control of bowel
- Problems having a bowel movement
Another common problem related to the gastrointestinal tract is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Irritable Bowel Syndrome can cause abdominal discomfort or pain along with diarrhea and/or constipation. In some cases IBS can cause alternating cycles of diarrhea and constipation. Bloating or distention of the abdomen is a common symptom. It’s estimated that 5% of Americans have been diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and another 5% don’t know they have it, and simply live with ongoing symptoms and stomach discomfort. Symptoms can include:
- Stomach pain/bloating/cramping
- Alternating bouts of aiarrhea or constipation
- Mucus in the stool
With IBS, the bowels can be over-active or under-active. The challenge with IBS is that there are typically no visible abnormalities shown on x-ray or through endoscopy. Some experts link the problem to anxiety and other stress-related causes. A knowledgeable physician can diagnose IBS by careful review of your symptoms, a physical examination, and selected diagnostic procedures that are often limited to a few basic tests. However, IBS can be a long-term condition and treatment is often designed to help a person manage symptoms.
GI problems can be extremely disruptive to one’s life and activity. While everyone has an upset stomach from time to time, when symptoms don’t go away over a period of a few weeks, that is a sign that you need to see a specialist in gastrointestinal problems who can perform some diagnostic tests, and prescribe some medication to see if your symptoms disappear or improve.
Generally you should go to the doctor to be evaluated when you have any of the following:
- You have decreased appetite.
- You have weight loss.
- You get tired easily.
- Symptoms wake you from sleep or they prevent you from sleeping.
- You have been diagnosed in the past with irritable bowel syndrome and symptoms are worsening.
- You have a stomach ache or belly pain that is not relieved when you pass gas or have a bowel movement.
- You see blood in your stool (rather than blood in the toilet that may be caused by hemorrhoids.
- You have a fever.
Diagnosis of GI problems can include endoscopy which enables the GI specialist to view the stomach. If there are problems requiring surgery this can be performed through laparoscopic surgery and hand-assisted laparoscopic surgery (HALS) are “minimally invasive” procedures which are commonly used to treat the gastrointestinal tract.
Unlike traditional surgery on the colon or other parts of the intestines where a long incision down the center of the abdomen is required, laparoscopic surgery requires only small “keyhole” incisions in the abdomen. In the case of hand-assisted surgery, a 3-4 inch incision is also used to allow the surgeon’s hand access to the abdominal organs. As a result, the person undergoing the procedure may experience less pain and scarring after surgery, and a more rapid recovery. Laparoscopic surgery can be used to treat conditions including:
- Crohn’s disease
- Colorectal cancer
- Colon polyps that puts you at higher risk of colorectal cancer
- Bowel incontinence
- Rectal prolapse, a protrusion of the rectum through the anus
- Ulcerative colitis
- Colon polyps that are too large to remove by colonoscopy
- Chronic severe constipation that is not successfully treated with medication