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
- Abdominal swelling, bloating or distention
- Burning in the throat
- Gas and flatulence
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:
Chest pain or pressure
Easy bleeding or bruising
Jaundice (yellowing of skin and eyes)
Referred shoulder pain
Weakness (loss of strength)
Weight loss, malabsorption, and vitamin deficiencies
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
High fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit)
Pulsating mass in abdomen
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
Celiac disease (severe sensitivity to gluten from wheat and other grains that causes intestinal damage)
Diverticulitis and diverticulosis
Inflammatory bowel disease (includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis)
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS; digestive discomfort that does not cause intestinal damage or serious disease)
Lactose intolerance and other food intolerances
Other causes of digestive symptoms
Other causes of digestive symptoms include:
Exposure to smoke or toxic fumes or substances
Inadequate daily consumption of dietary fiber
Medication side effects (antibiotics, anticholinergics, opioids, many others)
Narcotic use or withdrawal
Pregnancy and labor
Type 1 or type 2 diabetes
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:
Bleeding esophageal varices
Bleeding peptic ulcer
Dissecting abdominal aortic aneurysm
Peritonitis (infection of the lining that surrounds the abdomen)
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:
Poor nutrition due to vomiting, diarrhea, or a decreased desire to eat
Sepsis (life-threatening bacterial blood infection)
Severe discomfort or pain