If intestinal bloating, cramps, diarrhea and especially bloody stools are painfully familiar, it may be time for a gut check.
“Any time that there’s bleeding, we would say that the patient should seek medical evaluation,” says Dr. Michael Weiss, gastroenterologist on Lee Memorial Health System’s medical staff.
There is a wide swath of potential causes, ranging from minor to serious.
“Some of those patients are just going to have bleeding from hemorrhoids and of course that’s very common and not particularly concerning. The other big differential diagnosis would be whether somebody might have a polyp or a colon cancer,” says Weiss.
The go-to technique in diagnosing intestinal issues is the colonoscopy. We hear of it mostly related to cancer screening, but it’s actually used to diagnose most GI problems, including inflammatory bowel diseases, or IBDs.
The most common IBDs are ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s Disease. They vary in location and scope, but in both cases, the body’s immune system attacks the digestive system.
“They’ve looked at many reasons that people might have this inflammation and really we haven’t been able to come up with anything. So thus it’s felt to be autoimmune,” says Dr. Weiss.
Symptoms frequently appear within two general time frames.
“There are two peaks of age for inflammatory bowel disease. Younger people present in their 20s and 30s and then there’s a second peak in people in their 50s and 60s,” says Dr. Weiss.
If you’re experiencing painful or irregular bowel patterns, it’s important to go with your gut feeling, and get to a doctor.