Gastrointestinal Disorders - Common Symptoms

Heart Burn

Heartburn is burning discomfort that is usually felt in the chest just behind the breastbone. The burning sensation results when acidic stomach juices rise up to the oesopahgus, thus coming in contact with and irritating the delicate lining of the oesophagus. Also known as acid indigestion. This burning sensation can rise up to your throat and mouth. The sensation of heartburn can vary from only slight discomfort to so severe that sufferers feel they are having a heart attack.

Abdominal Pain / Stomach Pain

There are many causes for abdominal pain. Try to describe your pain to your doctor. When do you experience the pain? Is it associated with meals or anything else? What is the character of your pain: burning, stabbing, cramps, dull, pressure-type pain? Is there any associated change in your bowel habits? Is there associated nausea or vomiting.


Constipation refers to a change in bowel habits, but can have different meanings. Stools may be too hard or too small, difficult to pass, or infrequent (less than three times per week). People with constipation may also notice a frequent need to strain and a sense that the bowels are not empty. This is a common symptom with many possible causes.


Chronic diarrhea is defined as loose stools that last for at least four weeks. This usually means three or more loose stools per day. There are many possible causes of chronic diarrhoea. Treatment is aimed at correcting the cause of diarrhoea (whenever possible), firming up loose stools, and dealing with any complications of diarrhoea.

Chronic diarrhoea can have a substantial impact on your quality of life and overall health. At its mildest, diarrhea is an inconvenience; at its worst, it may be disabling and even life threatening. Fortunately, effective treatments are available.

Difficulty in Swallowing / Dysphagia

Dysphagia means difficulty in swallowing. Disorders leading to dysphagia may affect the oral, pharyngeal, or esophageal phases of swallowing. It is important to contact your doctor if you suffer from this symptom.

Nausea and Vomiting

Nausea is an uneasiness of the stomach that often comes before vomiting. Vomiting is the forcible voluntary or involuntary emptying (“throwing up”) of stomach contents. These are symptoms with many possible causes.

Weight Loss

Unintentional weight loss is an important symptom and you should always consult your doctor about it. There are many causes for this symptom, some of which can be very serious. Often weight loss is associated with anorexia (loss of appetite). Anorexia can be associated with early satiety, when one feels full even after eating only a small amount of food.


Anaemia is a decrease in number of red blood cells (RBCs) or less than the normal quantity of hemoglobin in the blood. RBCs are responsible for oxygen transport throughout the body and therefore a decrease in the number of RBCs could have serious consequences. There are different causes for anaemia, and could be due to a decreased production of increased breakdown of RBCs.


Jaundice is a symptom of many medical problems but it is most often associated with conditions of the liver or the gallbladder. Jaundice causes yellow skin and eyes because of an excess amount of the bile pigment bilirubin in the fat layer under the skin. Either the body is producing too much, or it's not getting rid of it fast enough. Most bilirubin is produced when red blood cells are broken down into unconjugated bilirubin (and other substances). Unconjugated bilirubin binds to albumin (protein) in the blood for transport to the liver, where it is taken up by hepatocytes (liver cells) and conjugated with glucuronic acid to make it water soluble. Conjugated bilirubin is then excreted in bile into the small bowel (duodenum). In the intestinal tract, bacteria metabolize bilirubin to form urobilinogen. Some urobilinogen is eliminated in the feces, and some is reabsorbed, extracted by hepatocytes, reprocessed, and re-excreted in bile. Any dysfunction in any step of this process can cause jaundice. Blood tests and other special investigations can give us the answer as to where the problem lies.

Rectal Bleeding

Seeing blood in the toilet, on the outside of your stool, or with wiping after a bowel movement is common. Fortunately, most of the causes of such rectal bleeding are not life-threatening; common causes include haemorrhoids and anal fissures. However, the only way to be certain of the cause is to be evaluated by a healthcare provider.

Most people with minor rectal bleeding do not have colon cancer or another serious condition. However, it is not possible to know the cause of rectal bleeding without an examination. Therefore anyone who notices rectal bleeding should talk to their healthcare provider to determine if an examination is needed.

Common Causes of Rectal Bleeding


Haemorrhoids are swollen blood vessels in the rectum or anus that can be painful, itchy, and can sometimes bleed. Painless rectal bleeding with a bowel movement is a common symptom of haemorrhoids. Bright red blood typically coats the stool or blood may drip into the toilet or stain toilet paper.

Anal Fissure

An anal fissure is a tear in the lining of the anus, the opening where feces are excreted. Anal fissures can cause bleeding and a sensation of tearing, ripping, or burning during or after a bowel movement.

Other causes of Rectal Bleeding

There are many other causes of rectal bleeding, including colon cancer, colon polyps, colitis, and diverticulosis.

Bleeding from the upper gastro-intestinal tract (e.g. oesopahgus, stomach and the first part of the small bowel) can produce black, tarry bowel movements because stomach acid turns blood black (melena). Remember that any iron supplement can also make the stool appear black.

While most rectal bleeding is caused by the non-serious causes mentioned above, bleeding can also be caused by cancerous or precancerous conditions. Precancerous polyps near the end of the colon can mimic bleeding from haemorrhoids. These are generally present in the colon for years before they become cancerous, and they can be removed very safely from the colon, preventing progression to cancer.

Colon cancer may be diagnosed in patients who have ignored bleeding for years because they assumed it was from haemorrhoids. Polyps and colon cancer become more common with aging, and thus investigation of bleeding is most important, and is usually most intensive, in patients over the age of approximately 40 to 50 years.

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