We've all brushed off bloating, cramping, and even pain—but these red flags deserve your attention.
5 GI Symptoms You Shouldn't Ignore
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With just about every Instagram star we know posting reverse before and after photos—before eating, with their abs looking taut and toned, and after eating, with some serious food babies on display—people are getting the message that bloating and even a little stomach discomfort can be normal. And sometimes, a little bloat is indeed the result of eating a day's worth of food. But not all GI symptoms can, or should, be so easily ignored. Some stomach issues can be a sign of serious problems, including cancer, inflammatory disorders, and more. Your guide to GI issues ahead.
Feeling Unusually Full
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If you get stuffed on less than what you'd normally eat for two to three weeks straight, or if you experience bloating that lasts that long, head to your ob-gyn. These are two symptoms of ovarian cancer, and because they're so subtle, they're easily missed, says Stephanie Blank, M.D., the director of women's health at Mount Sinai Downtown Chelsea Center. "One study showed that almost 40 percent of women with ovarian cancer had been given a wrong diagnosis. I have seen women who think it is their IBS acting up or think they have just been gaining weight," she says. Other symptoms to watch for: pelvic pain and having to pee super-often.
Blood in Your Stool
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It's not always a sign of something bad, but bloody poop should always be checked out, since it can be a sign of colon cancer, says Robynne Chutkan, M.D., a gastroenterologist and author of The Bloat Cure. Just to calm your anxiety, though, it can also just be from a small tear down there or hemorrhoids, or it may even be food, says James Brief, M.D., a gastroenterologist and chief medical officer at FoodMarble Digestive Health. Get it checked out to be safe.
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Sure, we've all experienced that "I ate too much" ache. But if you're doubled over after every meal, it's time to see your doctor. "Severe pain after eating is a sign of Crohn's, an inflammatory bowel disease," says Dr. Chutkan, adding that unexplained weight loss is another sign. (Related: How Crohn's Disease Made Me Love Running)
A Hard Belly
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Normal bloat should be still feel soft. Distension is when your belly feels hard. "This can be a sign of an intestinal obstruction. It's an absolute emergency that needs to be tended to immediately," Dr. Brief says.
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If you're throwing up, you probably have an inkling that something is wrong. But when there's blood, it's time to book it to your doctor. "It can be a sign of a tear in the muscular lining of the esophagus, a ruptured blood vessel in the esophagus, or a bleeding ulcer," Dr. Brief says. The exceptions? If you can find a cut in your mouth (that's likely where the blood is coming from), or if you just drank red juice (it's not blood at all).