That Gut Feeling

If your stomach gurgles, growls, rumbles or aches, it may be trying to tell you something.

The digestive system is a series of organs responsible for processing the food you eat to extract nutrients your body can use. If something goes wrong with this complex system, it can disrupt your life or lead to more serious health problems.

Acid Reflux

Acid helps digest food, but if the body produces too much or the valve between the stomach and the esophagus malfunctions, acid may travel up the digestive system.

“Common signs of acid reflux include heartburn, a bad taste in the mouth and acid in the throat,” says Eric Hill, M.D., a gastroenterologist on the medical staff at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Alliance. “If over-the-counter medications aren’t helping, you have trouble swallowing, experience unexplained weight loss or have black stools, see a physician.”

Depending on patient symptoms, Dr. Hill may recommend stronger medication or perform a test called an endoscopy to assess damage and check for Barrett’s esophagus — a precursor to esophageal cancer.

Constipation

Bloating, cramping and straining to pass stools are all common signs of constipation, according to the National Institutes of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. It defines constipation as having three or less bowel movements a week and trouble passing dry, hard stools.

“Most people experience constipation occasionally, but if symptoms are persistent, there’s a sudden change or you see bloody stools, it could be a sign of an underlying health problem, and I recommend seeing a physician,” says Jessica Shah, M.D., gastroenterologist on the medical staff at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Hurst-Euless-Bedford.

“We guide patients to eat diets rich in fiber and liquids, recommend certain types of medication or changes to medications, and perform colonoscopies to rule out or diagnose colorectal cancer and other issues.”

Gallstones

If you experience pain after eating fatty meals, specifically on the right side of the abdomen or back, you may have gallstones.

“Gallstones are caused by a build up of bile matter, such as cholesterol,” Dr. Hill says. “These stones become lodged in the gallbladder or its ducts, causing pain. Symptoms of gallstones and ulcers are very similar, and you need to see a physician to tell the difference.”

To diagnose gallstones, Dr. Shah recommends patients have an ultrasound, followed by other tests, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), as needed. If stones are found lodged in the system, the patient may be referred to a surgeon to remove the stones or gallbladder to relieve symptoms.

To find a physician to speak with about digestive health, visit TexasHealth.org/FindAPhysician.

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