When you have bothersome stomach issues, it is normal to assume that you’re just suffering indigestion or heartburn. But at some times, stomach symptoms can signal much more serious medical conditions. If you notice any of these following, seek medical advice right away.
Diarrhea. If diarrhea lasts more than a day, it’s time to head to the doctor. At least one strain of Covid-19 begins with prolonged diarrhea, and other serious infections can cause diarrhea that persists for days.
Sudden intense pain. Sharp abdominal pain might indicate acute appendicitis (if it’s on your lower right side), diverticulitis, or a serious infection.
Difficulty swallowing. While it seems fairly benign, difficulty swallowing can be a sign of esophageal cancer.
Severe heartburn. Heartburn is normal for many people, but if it suddenly becomes worse than usual, pay attention. This could signal a more serious problem for which you should be screened.
Cramps after eating. Mild cramping is usually nothing to worry about, but severe cramping after you eat can be a sign of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Treatment can help you to eat, digest, and live more comfortably.
Chronic constipation. In many cases, chronic constipation can simply signal a problem with your diet. But if you’re eating a healthy, well-rounded diet and still struggling with constipation (especially if pain is involved) it can be a sign of a serious medical problem. Call your doctor if you have fewer than three bowel movements per week.
Unexplained weight loss. In most older adults, a bit of weight gain is normal as metabolism slows. Any time the opposite occurs, assuming you aren’t trying to lose weight, that is a red flag for potentially serious medical conditions.
Blood in stool. In most cases, blood in your stool is not nearly as alarming as it appears. It is often a sign of a mild problem like hemorrhoids. But after age 50, the risk of colon cancer does climb. If you see blood in your stool more than once, it’s time to call the doctor.
Swollen abdomen. A feeling of bloating is normal after a meal that produces excess gas. But if your abdomen looks noticeably different, you should be checked for conditions like an obstruction, inflammation, bacterial overgrowth or a gastrointestinal disease.
A feeling of fullness even though you’ve eaten very little. This might not seem like a big deal, but if it happens frequently, it can be concerning. Talk to your doctor rather than allowing this seemingly innocent symptom to persist.
Call your primary care physician to be sure you’re up to date on all preventive health screenings. And of course, always proceed straight to the emergency room when pain is severe, or if you otherwise feel a sense of urgency. It is always better to be safe than sorry.