This Is Everything Your Stomach Is Trying to Tell You About Your Health
When your gut talks, it's time to listen.
We’ve all been there: Your day is going fine until, suddenly, some awful stomach pain stops you in your tracks. Could it be that questionable queso you had for lunch, or is something even more sinister to blame? The truth is, your stomach holds the clues to countless health problems, from the minor to the potentially fatal. That’s exactly why it’s so important to listen to your gut—both literally and figuratively—when you feel something amiss in your midsection. Read on to find out just what your stomach is trying to tell you about your health.
You have gallstones.
If you find yourself experiencing a “stomach ache” in the upper right side of your abdomen, the real culprit is unlikely to be your stomach at all, since it resides in the upper left side instead. It’s far more likely that you actually have gallstones—small, crystalline masses in your gallbladder that can cause blockages and abdominal pain. But if it’s your gallbladder that’s telling you what’s wrong, it’s your stomach that offers corroborating evidence: nausea, vomiting, and darkened bowel movements are all typical of this common gallbladder condition.
“Gallstones are the product of cholesterol and bile,” says Dr. Rudolph Bedford, a gastroenterologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. “Tis may result in infection, irritation, and inflammation.” He explains that gallbladder surgery is one of the most common surgeries in the country, so patients should be on the lookout for this combination of symptoms.
You’re getting a migraine.
While sometimes, unexplained nausea and vomiting are your stomach’s way of telling you it’s in distress (think food poisoning, gastritis, or an ulcer), other times, your stomach sends up a flare about something else entirely. According to Dr. Kristine Arthur, an internist at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, nausea and vomiting are a way of alerting you to oncoming migraines, by triggering “changes in the central nervous system and also the slowing of digestion.”
If the nausea is sudden, and you aren’t experiencing other symptoms of food poisoning, don’t be surprised if a debilitating headache is right around the corner.
You have IBS.
If you find yourself enduring cramps, abdominal pain, bloating, gas, and altered bowel habits that last longer than three months, odds are your stomach is trying to tell you that you have irritable bowel syndrome, commonly known as IBS.
“The three ways the ‘altered bowel habits’ can present is with constipation, diarrhea, or the double whammy, both constipation and diarrhea,” says Dr. Sherry Ross, an OB/GYN and women’s health expert at Providence Saint John’s Health Center.
You have hepatitis C.
If you’re experiencing a combination of abdominal swelling, lack of appetite, nausea, and stomach pain, you may have hepatitis C. According to Bedford, this particular viral disease can fly under the radar for a significant period of time. In fact, “unless someone is getting routinely checked by a doctor, it may go undiagnosed for years,” he says.
This is particularly troubling, considering that hep C can lead to irreversible damage to the liver, and even liver cancer. “Acute hepatitis C will clear up on its own, but chronic hepatitis C will never go away,” Bedford adds.
You have appendicitis.
Pain that begins near your navel, but sharpens over time and moves downward, might be pointing to a dangerous condition: acute appendicitis. As Arthur explains, “If you are experiencing a sharp pain in the lower right abdomen that comes on rather suddenly over several hours or a day and it is persistent, it may be appendicitis.”
And this is one symptom you definitely shouldn’t ride out at home. “You should be seen by a doctor that day because it often requires surgery and, if left untreated, a ruptured appendix can be deadly,” says Arthur. You may also experience loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, bloating, or a low grade fever.
You have GERD.
Battling with stomach discomfort and heartburn? Your stomach may be trying to tell you that you have gastroesophageal reflux disease, commonly known as GERD.
“This common digestive disorder occurs when acid from the stomach enters the esophagus because the lower part of it–the esophagus sphincter–relaxes at the wrong time,” explains Bedford. These symptoms are frequently accompanied by difficulty swallowing, regurgitation of food or stomach acid, the sensation of a lump in your throat, and nausea.
You have an infection in your GI tract.
If you’ve been experiencing watery stool, abdominal pain or cramping, and nausea or vomiting, your stomach may be trying to tell you that you have a gastrointestinal infection.
“Gastrointestinal infections are either viral, bacterial, or happen because of a parasite,” Bedford says. “Inflammation occurs in the stomach and intestines and can lead to symptoms of diarrhea, vomiting, and abdominal pain.” So what should you do to mitigate some of that infection’s worst effects? “Staying hydrated is optimal treatment for gastrointestinal infections because you may lose a lot of fluid,” notes Bedford.
You have ovarian cancer.
While there are typically no early signs of ovarian cancer, patients diagnosed with the illness in its later stages regularly report having experienced persistent pain or pressure in the pelvic or abdominal area, bloating, feeling full quickly while eating, and a change in bathroom habits.
“All of the above are related to either accumulation of fluid in the abdomen, which is called ascites, or due to pressure from an ovarian mass or peritoneal irritation from cancerous implants throughout the abdomen or pelvis,” Ross says. Unfortunately, these symptoms are only typically detected once the cancer has spread from its original site. If you notice these symptoms, contact your physician immediately and be proactive by requesting a screening.
You have peptic ulcer disease.
If you are suddenly stricken with a sharp, burning abdominal pain paired with a feeling of fullness, your stomach may be trying to alert you to your peptic ulcer disease.
“Peptic ulcer disease is most commonly caused by [the bacteria] H. pylori, and will cause stomach pains. This bacteria disrupts the protective layer within the stomach, leading to ulcers,” says Bedford. You should also be on the lookout for an intolerance to fatty foods, heartburn, and nausea, all of which can help confirm the diagnosis.
You have gastroparesis.
If you have the sensation of fullness after eating just a few bites, or if you find yourself in the unpleasant situation of vomiting under-digested food you’ve recently eaten, your stomach may be trying to tell you that you have gastroparesis.
This is a relatively rare condition in which your stomach has difficulty emptying its contents despite there being no obstruction, slowing the normal process of digestion. According to a 2013 study in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, other symptoms include “nausea, vomiting, bloating, and upper abdominal pain,” though both peptic ulcers and functional dyspepsia cause similar symptoms. This isn’t a symptom you should let slide, however—if left untreated, gastroparesis can lead to malnutrition, severe dehydration, and unpredictable changes to blood sugar levels.
You have hypoglycemia.
If you find that you get ravenously hungry and that it’s difficult to satiate your hunger, your stomach may be trying to tell you that you have hypoglycemia.
“For most people, when blood sugar drops below 70, they have symptoms of hypoglycemia, which can include nausea, sweating, dizziness, and even confusion or fainting,” says Arthur. “The easiest and quickest way to increase blood sugar is to drink something with sugar, such as juice.” The good news? Those symptoms should disappear once your sugar level is back to normal—usually in only a few minutes.
You have pancreatitis.
If you experience abdominal pain, pain that travels to the back or worsens after a meal, nausea, vomiting, unintentional weight loss, and tenderness of the abdomen, you may have pancreatitis, according to Bedford.
Pancreatitis is an inflammatory disease of the pancreas in which digestive enzymes are activated before they’re released into the small intestine, causing damage to the organ. The more serious cases can be life-threatening, so you’ll definitely want to heed your body’s warning signals on this one.
You have inflammatory bowel disease.
If you’re no stranger to frequent and recurring diarrhea, abdominal pain, a low appetite, and unexplained weight loss, your stomach may be trying to tell you that you have a chronic inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. According to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, IBD currently affects an estimated 1.6 million people in the United States. Though the exact cause for IBD is still unknown, it is likely influenced by genetic and environmental factors, as well as the strength of a patient’s immune system.
You have diverticulitis.
If you experience acute abdominal pain, nausea, a fever, and a change in bowel habits, your stomach may be trying to tell you that you that you have diverticulitis. “Similar to a hernia, diverticulitis occurs within the intestines and colon and produces bulges or sacks along the lining,” explains Bedford.
While some cases of this disease can be mild, it can also lead to fatal complications. “If these pouches burst, they can lead to fecal bacteria entering the stomach,” says Bedford. According to the Mayo Clinic, roughly 25 percent of cases develop complications, so you’ll want to consult a doctor immediately if you experience these symptoms.
Your diet needs a reboot.
If you experience bloating without other symptoms—and outside of menstruation, if you’re a woman—chances are your stomach is trying to tell you to change your diet. Fortunately, according to Ross, all it takes is a few small changes to get those symptoms to stop. “Dietary rituals including many ‘B’ and ‘C’ vegetables are classic causes of gas and bloating, including beans, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower,” she says. “Other dietary culprits include rich and fatty foods, whole grains, apples, peaches, pears, lettuce, onions, [and] sugar-free foods containing sorbitol, mannitol, and xylitol are directly associated with this frustrating symptom,” as is lactose.
Her suggestion for those seeking relief? In addition to tapering off the aforementioned foods, drinking fewer carbonated beverages, eating less overall, eating slower, exercising, and limiting your alcohol intake can all have a positive effect as well. And instead of reaching for an unhealthy treat for comfort, discover these 30 Ways to De-Stress in Just 30 Seconds (Or Less!).
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