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Gut feeling: understanding stomach related 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.

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

To read more about IBD, go to https://www.crohnsandcolitis.org.uk/about-inflammatory-bowel-disease/what-are-the-symptoms

For details on IBS, visit http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Irritable-bowel-syndrome/Pages/Introduction.aspx

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

To find out more, go to https://www.coeliac.org.uk/home/

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

Read more at http://www.macmillan.org.uk/information-and-support/stomach-cancer