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Identifying 7 Early Signs of Gastrointestinal Disease

Identifying 7 Early Signs of Gastrointestinal Disease
Shweta Chaubey

5 Key Takeaways

  • It is normal to experience occasional diarrhea, constipation, or heartburn. However, if these symptoms occur frequently or severely, they could be early signs of gastrointestinal disease.
  • If these symptoms occur alongside changes in bowel habits, it is important to seek immediate medical attention. This is because they might point to serious conditions like colorectal cancer or esophageal cancer.
  • While bloating after a meal is common, prolonged or unusual discomfort could signify issues like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), ulcers, or gallstones.
  • Seeking medical help when experiencing multiple or persistent gastrointestinal symptoms allows for early diagnosis and management, potentially preventing complications.
  • Recording your symptoms (frequency, severity, duration) helps you clearly communicate with your doctor and facilitates accurate diagnosis and treatment planning.


If you’ve been having stomach problems lately, such as severe abdominal pain, diarrhea, or hemorrhoids, it might be the early signs of Gastrointestinal Disease.

Gastrointestinal (GI) disease refers to any condition or disease that affects the digestive system. The GI tract can be impacted by various illnesses, which can affect our overall health and digestion. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, about 70 million Americans suffer from GI problems. So, statistically concluding, GI symptoms are more common than you might have thought. If you suspect you may be experiencing these, here are seven early signs of Gastrointestinal Disease to look out for.

7 Early Signs of Gastrointestinal Disease

1. Ongoing Diarrhea

Diarrhea is a common symptom that may indicate many underlying conditions, such as food allergies or bacterial infections. In fact, it can also be a warning sign for COVID-19 too. However, if the stool is regularly more liquid than solid, it may be an indicator of gastrointestinal disorder. Additionally, experts suggest that chronic diarrhea can be related to a few different digestive disorders, including Inflammatory Bowel Disorder or Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Fortunately, there are many treatment options your doctor can use to treat and manage your condition.


2. Constipation

Constipation is also a common stomach problem almost everyone experiences at some point, especially in older age. A research paper published on NCBI states that Constipation is a condition where a person experiences infrequent and difficult bowel movements, typically less than three times a week. It is a common gastrointestinal problem in the United States and often leads to referral to gastroenterologists and colorectal surgeons. Constipation is a widespread issue that often goes unnoticed until the patient develops complications, such as anorectal disorders.

If left untreated, constipation can cause serious health problems. Over time, the stools in your colon can become so large and solid that your body can't remove them, which can be very painful or even life-threatening. If you experience constipation for more than seven days, it's important to seek medical attention. There are several possible causes of constipation, including -

  • certain medications
  • a low-fiber diet
  • medical conditions – IBS, thyroid, diabetes, or, in rare cases, colorectal cancer

3. Blood in stools

If you notice blood on the toilet paper or in the toilet bowl after flushing, it could be due to hemorrhoids or anal fissures, which is a common issue and can usually be treated with over-the-counter treatment options or home remedies.

However, if you find that these treatments are not effective or you are experiencing frequent hemorrhoids, it is highly recommended that you see a gastroenterologist. They can recommend advanced treatment options that can provide relief.

Moreover, it's important not to assume that blood in the toilet bowl is always due to hemorrhoids. If you notice blood in your stool or rectal bleeding accompanied by changes in bowel habits, stool color, or consistency, it's critical to see a gastroenterologist. Rectal bleeding may not be a major concern, but it can indicate a serious gastrointestinal disorder such as colorectal cancer.


4. Dysphagia

If you have trouble swallowing your food, or if it hurts while going down, it may be an indication of a serious problem. Studies suggest that esophageal cancer is more prevalent in adults over 55 years of age and three to four times more common in men than women. The most concerning thing about dysphagia is the possibility of esophageal cancer.

Other factors that can cause discomfort while swallowing include an ulcer, infection, a sore, or scar tissue, which might develop due to chronic acid reflux. Also, a growing number of people are diagnosed with a chronic allergic inflammatory disease called eosinophilic esophagitis (EOE), a primary source of swallowing difficulties. To determine the underlying cause of the problem, your gastroenterologist will likely perform an endoscopy, which involves inserting a tube with a camera attached down your throat.


5. Heartburn

Experiencing heartburn occasionally is not a cause for concern. In most cases, it can be managed at home. However, if heartburn symptoms occur more than twice a week, it may indicate GERD, a condition that can scar and deteriorate the lining of the esophagus over time. Chronic acid reflux requires immediate medical attention, and it is crucial to get evaluated by a specialist. If left untreated, GERD can cause permanent damage to the esophagus, leading to difficulties in swallowing, painful ulcers, and an increased risk of developing gastrointestinal diseases.


6. Bloating

Experiencing bloating after a large meal is not uncommon, but if you feel a tightness in your belly that is unusual, it may be caused by gas production or trapped gas in the colon. Bloating can also be caused by constipation since waste that remains in the colon for longer periods is more likely to be fermented by resident bacteria, resulting in gas. However, bloating can also be a symptom of other conditions, such as IBS, lactose intolerance, SIBO, or gastroparesis, also known as partial paralysis of the stomach. Consulting a gastroenterologist can help you identify the exact cause of your bloating and the most effective way to treat it.

7. Abdominal pain

Again, a very common stomach problem which may be an early sign of gastrointestinal diseases is abdominal pain. Although occasional bellyaches are common, and we all have dealt with them, severe pain that suddenly comes and goes or stays for hours and causes extreme discomfort may tell a different story.

If you experience burning abdominal pain, especially after eating, it might be a sign of a stomach ulcer or peptic ulcer. This condition refers to a sore that develops on the lining of your stomach or the first part of your small intestine. An untreated ulcer can lead to swelling and scarring, which can block your digestive tract. Additionally, severe and persistent abdominal pain can indicate gallstones, pancreatitis, or liver disease. To determine the cause of this pain, it's best to consult a gastroenterologist.


When to seek medical attention?

If you have noticed any or all of these seven signs, it's time to consider visiting your gastrointestinal doctor. During your first gastroenterologist appointment, the doctor will inquire about your medical history and digestive symptoms. They may recommend some lifestyle changes or medications to help alleviate your symptoms and discuss any necessary tests, screenings, or procedures. Keep a list of your symptoms handy before your appointment to ensure you remember to ask about all the issues you're experiencing. During your initial evaluation, your doctor will start with identifying your stomach problems and addressing your symptoms. If your condition is chronic, your doctor will also discuss the best way to manage it over time. If your symptoms do not improve, your doctor may also recommend additional testing.



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HPFY Shweta Chaubey

Shweta Chaubey

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Shweta Chaubey, has been a Health Products For You contributor since 2021. An advocate-turned-writer, her desire to create meaningful and positive content has brought her to HPFY and what better than writing ...

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