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‘I’m a doctor – here is when you need to speak to your GP about stomach problems’

Dr Dawn Harper explains symptoms and treatment of IBS

Many of us have experienced stomach issues at some point. Stomach pain, bloating and nausea, can be caused by a myriad of things.

Quite often they’re nothing to worry about and can be the result of eating too much food, or something that doesn’t agree with you.

However, in other cases they can be a sign of something more serious. According to Doctor Jason Chow, consultant medical oncologist at Cromwell Hospital, they might require a visit to your GP in certain circumstances.

Speaking with , he said: “It’s important to know when symptoms may be a sign of something more serious and when they should be checked out by a doctor.

“Particularly, if you’re over 55 years old, overweight, smoke or drink alcohol, have a poor diet, have a H. pylori infection (such as stomach ulcers), or you have a family history of gastrointestinal cancer.”

Stomach pain could signal something more serious (Image: Getty Images)

He talked through the most common gastrointestinal signs and symptoms and when you should seek further advice.

Stomach pain

If this is persistent, gets worse or keeps coming back it’s time to seek medical help.

“It is common to have stomach pain, caused by gas, bloating and stomach bugs, but when it is intense pain that doesn’t go away or gets worse or keeps returning over the space of a couple of weeks then it’s important to speak to a doctor,” Dr Chow said.

“If you notice that you are going to the toilet more often or losing weight alongside the stomach pain then I would recommend you speak to your doctor as soon as possible as this could be something more serious such as stomach ulcers, gastritis, Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel disease or in rare cases, cancer. “

Young women suffering stomach pain

Stomach pain coupled with other symptoms such as losing weight could even signal cancer (Image: Getty)

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Difficulties or pain when swallowing

Experiencing difficulties or pain when swallowing can be a sign of an infection, such as tonsillitis, or a cold.

Dr Chow continued: “But when it’s persistent, it may be a sign that there is something else wrong and should be checked out by a doctor.

“If the painful swallowing occurs with other symptoms, such as; blood when you cough, a hoarse voice that lasts longer than two weeks, or a lump in the neck, then make an appointment with your doctor to look into what might be causing this.”

Nausea or vomiting

Persistent nausea or vomiting is one to watch. Dr Chow said: “Nausea and vomiting may be due to a number of things. If you’ve been vomiting for over 48 hours, then you should speak to a doctor as you’ll likely be suffering with dehydration.


If you have any worrying symptoms you should speak to a healthcare professional (Image: Getty)

“You should also see a doctor if your vomit is green or yellow as this could mean you’re bringing up bile which can sometimes suggest that you may have a blockage in your bowel, and need to get checked.

“If you are concerned that there is blood in the vomit, you should speak to a doctor urgently.”

Acid reflux

Acid reflux can be painful and occurs when stomach acid flows back into the oesophagus. Acid reflux is common and typically is no reason to worry.

“However, it’s important to look out for symptoms becoming worse or persistent, especially when they do not improve after treatment,” Dr Chow said.

“Usually over the counter products or lifestyle modifications will help to improve symptoms of acid reflux but when symptoms are persistent or include vomiting, sudden abdominal pain or difficulty breathing then seek medical help as soon as possible.”

Change in bowel habit

It’s really important to notice any changes in bowel habits, Dr Chow said.

He added: “While it’s completely normal to occasionally be constipated or have diarrhoea, when it carries on for longer than a couple of days, then you should see a doctor who will be able to look into why this is happening.

“If you experience any dark stool or blood in the stool, you should speak to a doctor immediately.

“While it’s likely to be nothing serious, your doctor will want to rule out irritable bowel syndrome, irritable bowel disease, Crohn’s disease and cancer. If it is any of these conditions, then early intervention leads to better outcomes and in some cases can even be life saving.”

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