6 Signs Your Upset Stomach Isn't Normal

These are some of the instances when an upset stomach warrants a trip to your doctor.

April 3, 2017
stomach pain that is cause for concern
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Our guts are touchy. Everything from stress to a bad bite of seafood can get them all riled up.

Fortunately, in most cases, a brief bout of tummy turbulence—even one that sends you to the restroom more often than you'd like—shouldn't concern you much.

"If it lasts for a day or two, it's usually nothing to worry about," says Eric Esrailian, MD, co-chief of the Division of Digestive Diseases at UCLA's Geffen School of Medicine.

Especially if you're stressed, have been traveling, or just started new medications—all of which could lead to an irritable belly or bowels—don't freak out. "It doesn't mean you should ignore your stomach, but it's probably not too concerning," Esrailian says. 

On the other hand, there are plenty of instances when an upset stomach warrants a trip to your doctor, or even to the ER (like these 10 symptoms you shouldn't ignore), he says.

Here are some other times when a trip to a health care professional is in your best interest.

stomach pain is persistent
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Persistent Issues

The most important thing to take note of is a persistent change in your stomach status, he explains. Whether it's gas, an upset stomach, or odd bowel movements, "If you haven't had issues before, and you have discomfort for more than a few days, it's time to see your primary care physician," he says.

abdominal aches
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Abdominal Aches

While a brief period of discomfort isn't too concerning, you'll want to see a doctor if that discomfort is accompanied by what Esrailian calls "alarm features." He says: "These include unexplained weight loss, difficulty swallowing, or blood in the stool." If you notice any of these issues accompanied by stomachaches or crankiness, it's time to see someone. The list of potential gut conditions associated with these symptoms is long, and includes everything from hemorrhoids to cancer.

bloody stool
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More On Blood...

While blood in your toilet bowel may seem super scary, it's often a sign of something benign. "If it's a younger patient with a small amount of red blood on tissue paper after straining during a bowel movement, that could be a small tear in the tissue of the anal canal," Esrailian says. "But if somebody's older and has never had any blood, we start wondering if something more serious could be going on." See someone. (Here are 6 signs you need to see a GI doctor ASAP.)

pain
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Pain

If, every once in a while, you feel a stab of gut pain, that's probably not something to freak out about. But if you have a pain that keeps popping up in the same place every day or every few days—and especially if that pain seems to be getting worse—that's worth a call to your doc. "Obviously if the pain is severe or debilitating, you want to go to the ER," Esrailian says. He mentions appendicitis (if the pain is the "lower-right quadrant" of your abdomen) and gall bladder trouble (upper-right quadrant) as two possible emergency issues.

Related: 5 Warning Signs Your Appendix Might Burst

gut's messing with your sleep
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Your Gut's Messing With Your Sleep

Does your stomach seem to gripe as soon as you climb into bed at night? That could be reflux, Esrailian says. "What we call functional disorders, things like irritable bowel syndrome, can also flare up at night and prevent sleep or disturb sleep," he adds. Whatever the case, you'll want to let your doctor know about it.

high risk
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You Qualify As 'High Risk' For Gut-Related Diseases

"Smoking increases your risk for numerous types of cancers, not just lung cancer," Esrailian explains. "So if you're smoker, that changes your risk profile, and we'll want to hear from you if you notice any changes." The same goes if you have a family history of colon cancer or other GI diseases. (Check out these 3 surprising ways your mom influenced your health.) Because you're at elevated risk, you don't want to ignore persistent stomach trouble for too long. Again, if your issues last for more than a couple days, call your doctor, Esrailian says. 

The article 6 Signs Your Upset Stomach Isn't Normal originally appeared on Prevention.

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