Everything You Wanted to Know About Gastrointestinal Health But Were Too Afraid to Ask Your Doctor

We all have stomach issues every now and then, and sometimes those issues are concerning. When they are, our first reaction is sometimes to turn to Google to get a sense of what’s going on with our gastrointestinal health.

But that can sometimes cause more worry than is necessary. If you type “What do I do if my stomach” into your Google search bar, for instance — well, you get some interesting results. Some of the first suggestions that pop up to autocomplete your question are “hurts really bad,” “is bloated,” “keeps growling,” and “is burning.”

Following these results can lead you to some not-so-perfect information that can convince you that you have gallstones, diverticulitis, Celiac disease or colon cancer — or that maybe it was just something you ate. For some perspective, we talked to Nicholas Avgerinos, MD, a family medicine physician with Lahey Health, and he shared some answers to these common searches.

“What Do I Do if My Stomach Hurts Really Bad?”

We all get a stomachache every now and then, and they come with myriad possible causes. According to Dr. Avgerinos, the most common reasons for stomach pain are:

  • Overeating
  • Viral infection, such as gastroenteritis
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Food poisoning
  • Stress

It’s important to identify your symptoms to determine the real cause. In some instances, stomach pain can be a sign of a serious problem. Watch out for symptoms like blood in the stool, night sweats, fever, pain when urinating or rapid weight loss. These are red flags that you need to see a doctor soon.

“What Do I Do if My Stomach Is Bloated?”

“Bloating and gas can be caused by a change in diet, particularly if you start eating more fiber than you’re used to,” Dr. Avgerinos said. Processed foods, salty foods, foods high in sugar and refined carbs can also cause bloating.

Mild food intolerances, particularly to dairy, can also cause bloating and gas. Dr. Avgerinos recommends going two weeks without any dairy to see if your symptoms resolve. You can also keep a food diary to try to uncover your triggers for pain, bloating, diarrhea or constipation.

“What Do I Do if My Stomach Keeps Growling?”

“Usually, a growling stomach is a sign that the stomach is empty or acid is churning,” Dr. Avgerinos said. He recommends having a glass of water or a small snack to see if the growling stops. If it doesn’t and you have pain along with the growling, it could be acid reflux. Persistent reflux not helped by over-the-counter medications should be checked out by a doctor.

“What Do I Do if My Stomach Hurts After Drinking?”

“Alcohol is a common trigger for acid reflux or diarrheal episodes,” Dr. Avgerinos said. Drinking plenty of water and eating bland foods can help settle your stomach if you’ve had a few too many, he added.

It’s also best to keep alcohol consumption to the recommended daily limit of one drink for women or two drinks for men. Excess alcohol consumption can lead to pancreatitis, which can cause pain and other stomach issues. If you have regular pain after drinking, you may want to talk to your physician about it.

“What Do I Do if My Stomach Is Bleeding?”

Blood in your stool is concerning. It could be a sign of diverticulitis or ulcerative colitis. Then again, it could just simply be from hemorrhoids. If you have night sweats or a fever that accompany the bleeding, see a doctor right away. It’s best to make an appointment with your primary care physician if you repeatedly see blood in your stool and you don’t have hemorrhoids.

How to Keep Your Gastrointestinal Health in Top Shape

We all have stomach issues on occasion. Usually, they’re not serious, and Dr. Avgerinos recommends not searching for what your symptoms mean on the internet. You can address most problems at home through diet and exercise, he says.

“Eat a high-fiber diet with between five and 10 servings of fruits and vegetables a day,” Dr. Avgerinos said. “This helps for many health issues, but also improves stomach pain.”

If your symptoms don’t resolve in a couple days or if you’re just worried that something isn’t right, call your primary care physician.

“There are more non-scary reasons to have abdominal pain than scary ones,” Dr. Avgerinos said. “However, anytime you are concerned, you should reach out to your physician. Having a relationship with a primary care doctor helps to see trends and recognize problems.”

*The content on this website is for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. Please consult a physician regarding your specific medical condition, diagnosis and/or treatment.

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