Esophagus, stomach, colon, pancreas, liver—your digestive system involves them all, so perhaps it’s no wonder that symptoms of GI problems can be all over the map. The problem is that when they show up in ways you don’t expect, you might not even realize that a trip to the gastroenterologist is in order. Here are a few clues that it’s time to make an appointment.
YOU’VE GOT A LUMP IN YOUR THROAT.
When food stops gliding down your gullet like it used to, get it checked—especially if the feeling gets more intense over time. Sometimes, even H2O can become hard to swallow .
“Pain with drinking water can be a sign of a serious GI problem,” says Jeffrey S. Crespin, M.D., a gastroenterologist and clinical assistant professor at NYU. Your doctor will also want to know if your swallowing problems come with a side of coughing, hoarseness, hiccupping, or feeling full after only a few bites of food. These could be signs of esophageal cancer.
YOUR GAS CLEARS A ROOM.
Flatulence is normal—did you know the average person passes almost 2 liters of gas a day?—unless it’s paired with unpleasant side effects. “The time to be concerned is if it’s associated with abdominal discomfort, change in bowel habits, or unexplained weight loss,” says John E. Burney, M.D., a gastroenterologist in Fayetteville, Georgia.
Take note of foul-smelling gas, too. That odor could be a signal that a parasite called giardia is infecting your intestines.
YOUR PANTS ARE SUDDENLY TOO TIGHT.
If you’re having a harder time zipping your jeans than you did a few days ago, it may not be belly fat that’s to blame. Bloating—what happens when your body holds in too much gas—is a common problem, and can just be a result of overeating or swallowing too much air. But sudden bloating that occurs for no obvious reason and is accompanied by symptoms like pain or blood in the stool is more concerning.
It could be as simple as a dairy digestion problem, or it could mean something else that deserves different treatment, says Dr. Burney. “Things to consider are gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), gallstones, constipation, and celiac disease.”
YOUR PANTS ARE SUDDENLY TOO LOOSE.
Weight loss you can’t explain can be a symptom of many health problems, but your digestive system is a good place to start your search for a cause. “Gastroenterologists often see patients for unexplained weight loss,” says Dr. Burney. “The first things to exclude are cancers of the colon, pancreas, and stomach.”
Other reasons you might be dropping pounds include conditions like celiac disease or Crohn’s disease, which interfere with your body’s ability to absorb nutrients.
YOUR STOOL TURNS BLACK.
You’re likely to feel some alarm if you see red in the toilet after you go, but blood can also make your poop look black. And when it comes to your rectum, “Bleeding is never normal,” says Dr. Crespin. Bright red bleeding you only see on toilet paper may be from hemorrhoids—swollen blood vessels on your bottom that can itch or hurt.
Your primary doctor may be able to help with hemorrhoids, but if bleeding is ongoing or not linked to those, see a GI doctor. “Anyone with rectal bleeding that is recurrent, associated with other symptoms, or is 40 years or over should be evaluated,” says Dr. Burney.
Not in the gym—in your blood. Iron helps red blood cells deliver oxygen to your body’s tissues. When you’re running low on iron, your whole body feels it. It often makes you very tired, and can also cause headaches, yellowish skin, brittle nails, hair loss, and general overall weakness.
Your internist can check your iron levels with a simple blood test, but if you turn out to be anemic you may need to see a GI specialist. “Iron deficiency anemia can often be due to chronic, unseen blood loss in the GI tract from things like colon cancer, stomach cancer, ulcers, inflammatory bowel disease or superficial blood vessels called angiodysplasia,” says Dr. Burney.
The article 6 Signs You Need To See A GI Doctor ASAP originally appeared on Prevention.