Your stomach says a lot about your overall health. As part of the digestive system, or gastrointestinal (GI) system, it helps the body break down food and absorb nutrients. Those nutrients provide energy and contribute to cell growth. The digestive tract, which includes the stomach along with the esophagus, small and large intestines, pancreas, liver and gallbladder, also eliminates waste from the body.
GI problems can block the body’s absorption of nutrients, resulting in serious issues. Digestive discomfort can also signal conditions ranging from stress to inflammation or infection. Listen to your gut. By understanding a few common conditions, you can address potential stomach problems before they become serious.
What it is: A condition triggered by the consumption of gluten (a protein found in foods containing wheat, barley or rye) that damages the small intestine and prevents it from absorbing important nutrients. Symptoms include abdominal pain, decreased appetite, nausea and weight loss, as well as bruising, muscle cramps and skin issues.
See a doctor when: Symptoms of celiac disease continue, especially if you have a family history of the disease.
Treatment options: Avoid gluten.
What it is: An inflammatory bowel disease that impacts the intestines (or, sometimes, other parts of the digestive track), causing everything from fever, fatigue and abdominal pain to ulcers, skin issues and weight loss.
See a doctor when: Experiencing severe pain, blood in the stool, weight loss or persistent fever.
Treatment options: Stress management, dietary changes, medications (including anti-inflammatories, antibiotics and others) and, in severe cases, surgery.
What it is: Inflamed or infected pouches in the digestive system (often in the large intestine) that trigger abdominal pain, nausea, fever and bloating.
See a doctor when: Experiencing serious nausea, vomiting or back pain, persistent high fever or blood in your stool.
Treatment options: Rest, pain medications, dietary changes and, in extreme cases, antibiotics or surgery.
What it is: Large intestine (colon) disorder that causes pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea or constipation.
See a doctor when: Symptoms persist or you notice a change in bowel habits.
Treatment options: Regular exercise and sleep routines, stress relief, dietary changes or, in serious cases, medication.
What it is: A condition that makes it difficult to digest lactose, a type of sugar in milk and dairy products, and leads to bloating, cramps, gas and diarrhea.
See a doctor when: Symptoms continue, or you notice symptoms in children.
Treatment options: Limit the amount of milk and dairy products in your diet, or try lactase products that help you digest lactose.