If you’re experiencing stomach pain but are unsure whether it is serious enough to see a specialist, read here to learn how to differentiate between ordinary pain and stomach illnesses. It may be time to book an appointment with your specialist.
Most of us have experienced an upset stomach from an acute illness, this is most often something that one can self-medicate at home, or even with a visit to your GP if you feel your symptoms need medical assistance.
But what should you do if you have stomach pain that occurs frequently or lasts for long periods?
If the usual remedies don’t work and the discomfort persists long term, you might find you have an underlying condition that affects your gastrointestinal system. If you do decide to visit your GP as well, they will recommend seeing a gastroenterologist for specialist care.
There could be many reasons you should consult a gastroenterologist, also known as a digestion doctor, if you are experiencing discomfort and unusual symptoms.
It is a common misconception that a gastroenterologist is just a stomach doctor and deals exclusively with that area of the body, but in fact, these specialists help treat conditions for many different areas of your body.
A gastroenterologist can assist with symptoms ranging from the esophagus all the way down to the rectum.
This post will explore the various reasons one might need to make an appointment and get an expert opinion to get you feeling right as rain again.
What Is a Gastroenterologist?
Most of us don’t have an in-depth understanding of the specialization of a digestion doctor until we are in huge amounts of pain that does not subside the way that some acute illnesses usually would.
This is when we’re forced to seek specialized help from specialists such as a gastroenterologist.
Where Can Stomach Pains Come From?
When we consider the gastrointestinal system, most people would naturally assume that this is limited to the stomach and intestines.
In reality, gastroenterology involves looking at the normal function and diseases of the entire gastrointestinal tract – including your esophagus, stomach, small intestine, colon and rectum, pancreas, gallbladder, bile ducts, and liver.
Issues with any of these parts of the body could cause what appears to be stomach pain and may warrant a visit to a gastroenterologist to confirm a diagnosis and receive treatment.
Conditions Managed by Gastroenterologists
Some of the most common ailments that one would visit a gastroenterologists for include the following:
- Cancer (Gastrointestinal, Liver, Pancreatic, Colorectal)
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Celiac Disease
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease
- Gallbladder Disease
- GERD (Heartburn, Acid Reflux)
- Hemorrhoids (Swollen Veins in the Lowest Part of the Rectum and Anus)
- Polyps (Abnormal Tissue Growths)
- Ulcers (Painful Sores in the Stomach Lining)
Some of the above conditions can become much worse and potentially cause severe long-term complications if one does not get the required medical attention as soon as possible.
Below, we will look at some of the instances where your stomach pain is no longer something that can be cured by a home remedy, but rather requires an appointment with a gastroenterologist.
Types and Sources of Stomach Pain
Stomach pain can be a difficult pain to diagnose oneself, because often the pain is not actually located in what the average person calls the stomach area but is in fact more pinpointed to a specific region of the abdominal cavity.
Many vital organs make up this general area, such as the small and large intestines, appendix, kidneys, liver, and gallbladder.
The digestive tract is also found in this general area of the body, along with all the building blocks like muscles, bones, blood vessels, and other structures.
It is clear just from listing these various areas and components that there is a lot more going on in the abdomen than just the stomach, and this is what can make it difficult for you to differentiate between and locate the issue yourself.
There are, of course, acute ailments that most of us have experienced in the past and at least have an idea of the familiar sensation – something like indigestion, bloating and gas, or constipation.
This pain is passing, doesn’t last for long periods of time, and does not occur repeatedly. These ailments typically present as generalised pain.
Stomach Pain That Requires a Gastroenterologist
Generalised pain is something you should be able to recognise as a separate sensation to abdominal pain, which is localised to a particular region.
If you can feel, for example, that your kidneys are in pain (read here to see where they are located if you are unsure) you can then monitor it accordingly.
If it does not pass in a short amount of time but instead persists, or even worsens, it may indicate that it’s time to see your doctor.
Let’s have a look at some signs which may indicate it is necessary to seek specialised medical assistance.
1. Intense Pain Accompanied by Bloody Diarrhea
Intense pain that comes on quickly can be a sign that you are suffering from a foodborne illness, having consumed contaminated food.
This could be a result of food poisoning, Salmonella, or E. Coli. These are generalized pains and are likely something you will have experienced before and will subside within hours.
If the pain is persistent and is accompanied by blood in diarrhoea, you could be experiencing something more serious, possibly ulcerative colitis or another inflammatory bowel disease.
2. Sudden Pain Paired with Vomiting
As with the first sign, this could be as a result of contracting a foodborne illness which would then pass within several hours or days.
Alternatively, you could be experiencing acute gastroenteritis (‘stomach flu’). Gastroenteritis is caused by a bacteria, virus, or parasite and causes inflammation of the intestine lining.
Viral gastroenteritis is very common today and is another instance where home care will suffice, and the pain will not last past a few days.
As such, it’s not essential to see a gastroenterologist but if you are struggling to keep fluids down then a visit to the doctor is needed.
3. Intense Stomach Pain in Lower Abdomen
If your pain is located in the lower abdomen, this could be something that subsides after a bowel movement, indicating you may be suffering from IBS.
Irritable bowel syndrome can sometimes seem like it’s acute pain and passes quickly but keep track of how often this happens.
It is normal to have occasional constipation, however, if you are experiencing less than three bowel movements a week coupled with intense lower abdomen pain, the issue is more serious.
4. Side or Lower Back Pain
Experiencing pain in your side or lower back could indicate kidney stones if this abdominal pain is also accompanied by discomfort and pain when urinating.
Kidney stones cause pain due to their sharp crystalline structure which irritates the urinary tract as it passes through.
Some people will find this pain almost unbearable and is uncommon in acute illnesses, making it easier to know that this is a serious instance in which a visit to your gastroenterologist is necessary.
It is very unlikely that you have never experienced any form of stomach pain in your life, but most of these cases will have been acute illnesses and short-lived symptoms.
These forms of stomach pain are quite mild and don’t require attention from a medical professional.
If the pain persists for long periods, intensifies over time, or is localized rather than generalised pain then you should aim to seek assistance from your doctor as soon as possible.
Learn More from the Experts
GiDoc Johannesburg is here to provide you with expert medical advice in the field of gastroenterology.
DISCLAIMER: PLEASE READ CAREFULLY
The information on this website is to provide general guidance. In no way does any of the information provided reflect definitive medical advice and self-diagnoses should not be made based on information obtained online. It is important to consult a Gastroenterologist or medical doctor regarding ANY and ALL symptoms or signs including, but not limited to: abdominal pain, haemorrhoids or anal / rectal bleeding as it may a sign of a serious illness or condition. A thorough consultation and examination should ALWAYS be performed for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan. Be sure to call a physician or call our office today and schedule a consultation.