MONTCLAIR, NJ – Chronic and persistent stomach issues, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), heartburn, bloating, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting constipation and diarrhea, can have a variety of causes. Sometimes it’s a structural issue like a mass or tumor, or a biochemical abnormality. Most commonly, however, gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms are caused by a functional disorder — meaning the body simply isn’t functioning the way it’s supposed to. The challenge in these cases is that the cause can be difficult to pinpoint. When patients present with GI complaints, diagnostic procedures like CT scans, blood tests, x-rays and endoscopic exams will turn up negative if the patient has a Functional GI disorder, despite the patient’s very real suffering.
Not knowing the underlying cause can be extremely frustrating for patients, making them feel that the problem they are experiencing is all in their heads, when of course that couldn’t be further from the truth. In addition, the stress of an undiagnosed illness can exacerbate a patient’s symptoms. That’s why it is so important to seek the care of a specialist.
Gastroenterologists have a wide variety of tools and resources for diagnosing GI disorders, including specialized tests to detect food allergies and intolerances, which are often overlooked. While food allergies cause the body to attack its own immune system and are triggered by any amount of an offending food, food sensitivities or intolerances are portion related and caused by an inability to digest certain foods. Non-celiac gluten intolerance or “wheat intolerance,” for example, is actually quite common. A simple test can detect it and a change in diet can quickly alleviate symptoms.
Oftentimes, treatment resistant GI disorders are caused by a patient’s Body Mass Index (BMI). A BMI over 30 is a significant risk factor. Due to the stigma associated with being overweight, some patients resist seeking treatment, but these disorders — and a patient’s weight — are not something to be ashamed of. Patients who have chronic disease associated with weight should not be blamed for their illness. Rather, they need a compassionate and multi-disciplinary approach to care.
If you are experiencing GI symptoms that are resistant to treatment or have gone undiagnosed, ask your primary care physician if a GI consult would be beneficial.
Dr. Oleg Shulik is certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine and is a member of the American Gastroenterological Association, the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy and the American College of Gastroenterology. He has published numerous peer-reviewed articles on gastrointestinal medicine and is engaged in ongoing research on the topic.
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