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How can one tell if they have a digestive problem?

How can one tell if one has a true digestive problem? Like everyone else, I sometimes have stomachaches or cramping, sometimes diarrhea, but I never thought too much of it. But now my girlfriend is saying that she thinks my digestion is truly a medical problem.
Diseases of the digestive system can present in a variety of ways, depending on the location of the problem within the gastrointestinal tract, the severity and duration of the problem, and the sensitivity of the organs to potentially painful changes within the tract. It is true that many people occasionally experience a bout of diarrhea or stomach pains, but only a doctor can help you determine if your symptoms are "run-of-the-mill" or warrant further investigation. A thorough history can be performed, looking for signs that are often labeled as "red flags." These symptoms include weight loss, bloody bowel movements, dark black tarry bowel movements, anemia, fever, vomiting, and chronic or significant abdominal pain that is not relieved by bowel movements. These symptoms should raise concern for an underlying process that may endanger your health and need further work-up by your physician. Following a thorough history and physical exam, your physician may choose to perform further testing with blood work (for example, testing for anemia and thyroid dysfunction) or may choose to do an imaging study (ultrasound) or procedure (such as a colonoscopy) to gain further information to make an accurate diagnosis.
This answer is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.
If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or (in the United States) 911 immediately. Always seek the advice of your doctor before starting or changing treatment. Medical professionals who provide responses to health-related questions are intended third party beneficiaries with certain rights under ZocDoc’s Terms of Service.
Who answers these questions?
Answers are written by doctors from top institutions:
  • Cleveland Clinic
  • Boston Children's Hospital
  • NYU Langone Medical Center
  • Brigham and Women's Hospital
  • Johns Hopkins Hospital
  • Mass General Hospital
  • Beth Israel Medical Center
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