Digestive Symptoms

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What are digestive problems?

Digestive symptoms include a wide variety of symptoms that affect the digestive or gastrointestinal system. The gastrointestinal system includes the throat, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, anus, pancreas, liver, and gallbladder. Digestive symptoms can be due to a wide variety of mild to serious diseases, disorders and conditions. They can occur in all age groups and populations.
Common digestive symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Burning in the throat
  • Diarrhea
  • Indigestion
  • Reflux
  • Vomiting

Digestive symptoms can vary greatly in character and severity depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Depending on the cause, digestive symptoms can last briefly and disappear quickly, such as symptoms that occur during a single episode of indigestion. Digestive symptoms can also persist or recur over a longer period of time, such as when due to colorectal cancer or inflammatory bowel disease.

Digestive symptoms that are associated with dizziness, fainting, shortness of breath, bloody stool, or major rectal bleeding can indicate a serious, potentially life-threatening condition. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of these symptoms. Seek prompt medical care if your symptoms are persistent, recur, or cause you concern.

What other symptoms might occur with digestive symptoms?

Digestive symptoms may be accompanied by symptoms in other body systems depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Other symptoms that may occur along with digestive symptoms include:

Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition

In some cases, digestive symptoms may occur with other symptoms that might indicate a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of these symptoms:

  • Change in level of consciousness or alertness, such as passing out or unresponsiveness

  • Dizziness

  • High fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit)

  • Pulsating mass in abdomen

  • Rapid pulse

  • Respiratory or breathing problems, such as shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, labored breathing, wheezing, not breathing, or choking

  • Severe abdominal pain

  • Vomiting blood, major rectal bleeding or bloody stool

  • Yellow skin and eyes (jaundice)

What causes digestive symptoms?

Digestive symptoms have many possible underling causes. General conditions that can cause digestive symptoms include infection, malignancy, inflammation, trauma, obstruction, and other abnormal processes.

Digestive symptoms can result from gastrointestinal or digestive conditions or from conditions of other body systems, such as the endocrine system, the nervous system, the reproductive system, and the urinary system.

Gastrointestinal causes of digestive symptoms

Other causes of digestive symptoms

Other causes of digestive symptoms include:

    Life-threatening causes of digestive swelling

    In some cases, digestive symptoms may accompany a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. These include:

    What are the potential complications of digestive symptoms?

    In some cases, digestive symptoms can lead to serious complications, especially if the underlying disease or condition is untreated or poorly managed. Once the underlying cause is identified, you can help minimize your risk of serious complications by following the treatment plan you and your health care professional design specifically for you. Complications include:

    • Bowel obstruction

    • Dehydration due to vomiting, diarrhea, or a decreased desire to drink fluids

    • Difficulty breathing

    • Erosive esophagitis

    • Peritonitis

    • Poor nutrition due to vomiting, diarrhea, or a decreased desire to eat

    • Reduced appetite

    • Sepsis (life-threatening bacterial blood infection)

    • Severe discomfort or pain

    • Shock

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    Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
    Last Review Date: 2020 Nov 18
    View All Digestive Health Articles
    THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
    1. Abdominal Pain. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003120.htm
    2. Bowel and Intestines. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC), a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), National Institutes of Health. http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/topics/bowel.asp
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    4. Gallbladder. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC), a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), National Institutes of Health. http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/topics/gallbladder.asp
    5. Liver. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC), a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), National Institutes of Health. http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/topics/liver.asp
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    7. Pancreas. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC), a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), National Institutes of Health. http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/topics/pancreas.asp
    8. Stomach. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC), a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), National Institutes of Health. http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/topics/stomach.asp
    9. Domino FJ (Ed.) Five Minute Clinical Consult. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2013.