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Gut Feeling: Understanding Stomach Problems

There is a lot of confusion around symptoms associated with the stomach and the digestive system. This is understandable, as any one symptom can have a number of associated causes. In the case of stomach-related problems, the same symptom – bloating, for instance –  can imply anything from excess wind to food intolerance or, if persistent, something potentially more serious.

Therefore it is important you understand the different symptoms of illnesses associated with the stomach and digestive system, and that way you can better judge when to visit the doctor. If a symptom is persistent, of course, or is particularly worrisome, then you should always have it checked by a specialist. At the same time, be mindful that an occasional stomach ache may be something quite harmless, such as excess wind.

We explore some of the most common urological complaints with useful links that will help you recognise their symptoms and understand their causes

In some instances, these symptoms may be related to your diet. In which case, it’s important to distinguish between a food allergy and a food intolerance. An allergy is a reaction in the immune system where your body mistakenly treats proteins found in food as a threat, and can cause a rash, wheezing and itching. Generally speaking, a food intolerance will not be associated with these symptoms.

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

Both IBD (also known as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis) and IBS have many of the same symptoms, but where IBD has a known cause – the inflammation of part of the gut – IBS does not.

If you suffer any of the following symptoms and they are persistent or reoccur, then you should see a specialist who will properly diagnose the problem:

  • Diarrhoea.

  • Cramping pains in the abdomen.

  • Tiredness and fatigue.

  • Feeling generally unwell.

  • Loss of appetite and loss of weight.

  • Anaemia (a reduced number of red blood cells).

  • Mouth ulcers.

Coeliac disease

Coeliac disease is not an allergy or an intolerance but a lifelong autoimmune disease caused by an adverse reaction to gluten – a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. It causes the small intestine to become inflamed and hinders the absorption of nutrients.

Symptoms of coeliac disease include:

  • Diarrhoea, which may smell particularly unpleasant.

  • Abdominal pain.

  • Bloating and flatulence.

  • Indigestion.

  • Constipation.

If you have coeliac disease, it's essential to follow a strict gluten-free diet to manage the symptoms.


Gallstones are small stones that form in gallbladder. They vary in size, are often symptomless and don't need to be treated. However, if a gallstone is trapped in a duct inside the gallbladder, it may cause a blockage which can trigger a sharp, intense pain in your stomach that can last for several minutes to a few hours. 

In some cases gallstones may cause complications, such as inflammation of gallbladder (also known as acute cholecystitis). The main symptom of acute cholecystitis is persistent abdominal pain, that does not recede within few hours. Additional symptoms may include:

  • A high temperature.

  • Feeling or being sick.

  • Sweating.

  • A bulge in your stomach.

  • Loss of appetite.

  • Yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes.

If you're feeling severe stomach pain, that does not go away after few hours, you should seek advice from a medical practitioner. It's important for any gallstone complications to be diagnosed as soon as possible. 

Stomach cancer

Stomach cancer is fairly uncommon in the UK, and the average risk that a person will develop the disease in their lifetime is about 1 in 111.

There are several forms of stomach cancer, but most of them start in the lining of the stomach. If operable, surgery can cure the problem, and where the cancer can’t be completely cured, chemotherapy and radiotherapy can help relieve symptoms.

The NHS Choices website indicates that initial symptoms of stomach cancer are easily mistaken for other less serious conditions, so don’t panic if the symptoms listed below coincide with any you have. Go to the doctor – and bear in mind that it’s unlikely that you have stomach cancer:

  • Persistent indigestion and heartburn.

  • Trapped wind and frequent burping.

  • Feeling very full or bloated after meals.

  • Persistent stomach pain.

Find out more information on stomach cancer

Neuroendocrine Tumour

Neuroendocrine is a rare cancer that sometimes grows slowly without many signs and symptoms. Symptoms may be similar to IBS:

  • Pain and diarrhoea.

  • Weight loss (without changing your diet).

  • Black tarry poo known as Melena.

  • Fever.

  • Nausea.

  • Flushing of the skin.

  • Wheezing.

  • Palpitations.

Find out out more information here

Got a stomach problem? At Benenden Health, we've got you

Benenden Health provides affordable healthcare services for everyone, giving you access to services such as our 24/7 GP Helpline and Mental Health Helpline straight away. Once you’ve been a member for six months you can request access to diagnostic consultations and tests.

You'll also have access to a wealth of health and wellbeing articles, videos and advice on a range of health issues.