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Published on September 14, 2020

"Tummy Troubles:" Sensitive Digestive System vs Signs of Colorectal Cancer

It’s not uncommon to have a sensitive digestive system. Some people have diagnosed digestive conditions, like irritable bowl syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis. Others may not have a diagnosed illness, but are in tune with their body and are aware of foods or drinks that irritate their digestive system, leading to discomfort, pain and/or changes in bowel movements.

It’s also not unusual to go through periods of time when your gastrointestinal tract is more sensitive than others. Environmental, dietary and lifestyle changes can all impact your health, including your gastrointestinal tract.

So, if you are experiencing digestive discomfort, pain or changes in bowel movements, including bleeding, at what point do you determine that you’re experiencing more than an irritable digestive system?

“It’s important to know your body, including what’s normal for you and what is not,” explains Harvey Guttmann, MD, chief, Gastroenterology Division, Jefferson Health - Abington.  If you have been traveling and eating cuisine you do not ordinarily eat, or if you are more stressed than usual, your body may react a bit, and that may normal.

“However, it is also important to understand that these symptoms can, in some cases, become signs of a serious, even life-threatening illnesses,” Dr. Guttmann notes. “Digestive system irritation caused by a lifestyle change, or even a stomach bug, ordinarily resolves itself in a couple of weeks. If these symptoms persist for more than a few weeks, or, they continue to worsen, it’s a good idea to see a doctor. You can start with your primary care physician, who can then refer you to a specialist if necessary.”

While it can be tempting to try to self-diagnose using the Internet, when it comes to your health, it is always best to consult with a professional who is better positioned to objectively evaluate your symptoms.

If you decide to see a physician to discuss your symptoms, he or she may order tests to help determine the cause. For example, a blood test can identify anemia, which can be caused by ongoing bleeding. Ongoing bleeding can be a symptom of colorectal cancer, whereas hemorrhoids generally result in less and short term bleeding. Depending on the nature of one’s digestive distress, an ultrasound, MRI or colonoscopy are other tests that may be ordered to help diagnose the problem.

If you are experiencing ongoing abdominal discomfort, pain, changes in bowel movements or blood in your stool, it’s important to take action and talk to a doctor as soon as possible. Prolonging care can cause the symptoms and condition to worsen, and the treatment to become more complicated.

To find a doctor, call Jefferson Health - Abington Physician Referral Service at 215-481-6334 or search online. For your convenience, Jefferson Health - Abington offers online scheduling for primary care physicians and telehealth appointments are also available.

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