People may experience stomach issues for several reasons. These can be as common as poor eating habits. In some cases, however, stomach issues may be due to common digestive disorders.

The gastrointestinal (GI) tract consists of the mouth, stomach, and intestines. Together with the liver, gallbladder, and pancreas, these organs work together to absorb nutrients and expel waste.

Disturbances to this process can cause a range of symptoms, from cramps to vomiting. Many of these issues may pass with time and pose little risk of complication. However, seemingly common stomach issues can be the result of several digestive disorders.

Knowing the signs and symptoms of common digestive disorders can help people identify them and seek relevant treatment.

In this article, we provide a list of more and less common digestive disorders, discuss their symptoms and treatments, and indicate when to contact a doctor.

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Digestive disorders are a group of conditions that occur when the digestive system does not function as it should. Health experts split them into two categories: organic and functional GI disorders.

Organic GI disorders occur when there are structural abnormalities in the digestive system, which prevents it from working properly.

In functional GI disorders, the GI tract appears to be structurally normal but still does not function well.

Some of the more common digestive disorders include:

Examples of less common digestive disorders include:

  • Hirschsprung’s disease
  • achalasia
  • Ménétrier disease

In the following sections, we look at these conditions in more detail.

The main symptom of IBS is abdominal pain, which may occur before or after bowel movements. People can also experience diarrhea, constipation, or both.

Whether a person typically experiences diarrhea or constipation more often, or both equally, determines which type of IBS they have.

Other symptoms of IBS may include:

A combination of factors can cause or worsen IBS symptoms. People with IBS are more likely to have experienced traumatic life events or to have a mental health condition. However, IBS can also develop after an infection or as a result of SIBO.

A variety of factors can contribute to IBS. That is why different people benefit from different approaches to managing their symptoms. They may need to:

  • make dietary changes
  • learn to reduce stress
  • address underlying conditions

Learn more about treatments for IBS here.

When to contact a doctor

Individuals with IBS should consult a doctor if they experience severe abdominal pain or cramps.

They should also contact a medical professional if any other IBS symptoms suddenly worsen or change or affect the person’s daily functioning or quality of life.

SIBO occurs when bacteria from the large intestine migrate to the small intestine, causing symptoms such as:

  • bloating
  • diarrhea
  • constipation

Treatment for SIBO involves taking antibiotics, but it may also include medications to help with digestion and address the underlying cause.

When to contact a doctor

A person experiencing SIBO symptoms for the first time should contact a doctor immediately. The doctor can advise them about what medications or lifestyle changes may help with their condition.

People who have a previous SIBO diagnosis should contact a doctor if their symptoms suddenly become worse or affect their daily life or if their treatment plan is no longer working.

Acid reflux occurs when a person’s stomach contents come back up into the esophagus or food pipe. If this happens frequently, a person may have GERD, which is a long-term condition.

GERD can cause esophagitis, which is inflammation or irritation of the esophagus. However, a person can also have GERD without esophagitis.

Common symptoms of GERD with esophagitis include:

Doctors are not always sure what causes GERD, but risk factors can include:

Treatment for GERD may include making dietary changes, quitting smoking, taking over-the-counter medications to manage the symptoms, or receiving treatments that address the underlying cause.

When to contact a doctor

Severe GERD can impact a person’s quality of life.

Individuals should consult a healthcare professional if they experience any of the following:

The gallbladder is a small sac that stores bile, which the body uses during digestion. Gallstones are small stones that form in the gallbladder.

In most cases, a person may not know that they have gallstones, as they usually do not produce any symptoms. However, people may experience symptoms if the gallstones form in front of an opening in the gallbladder.

Symptoms may include:

  • persistent pain below the ribs, on the right-hand side of the body
  • jaundice
  • a high temperature
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • sweating

Treatment for gallstones may include surgical removal of the gallbladder or a procedure whereby a healthcare professional will remove gallstones from the bile duct.

When to contact a doctor

While gallstones often do not cause any symptoms, they can lead to serious complications.

People should seek medical attention if they experience any of the following:

  • abdominal pain that lasts for more than 8 hours
  • jaundice
  • a high temperature or chills

It is also advisable to consult a healthcare professional if an individual is experiencing any of these symptoms more than 2–3 times per week over the course of weeks or months.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition that causes the body to attack the intestinal lining if a person eats foods containing gluten.

Unlike non-celiac gluten sensitivity, celiac disease is a serious condition that can cause damage to the intestines if left untreated.

Symptoms of celiac disease can include:

  • long-term diarrhea
  • constipation
  • stools that are pale, that are smellier than usual, and that float
  • abdominal pain
  • bloating
  • gas
  • nausea
  • vomiting

Over time, untreated celiac disease can lead to complications such as:

  • malnutrition
  • bone softening
  • problems relating to the nervous system
  • problems with reproduction

The main treatment for celiac disease is following a gluten-free diet.

When to contact a doctor

The sooner doctors can reach a celiac disease diagnosis, the sooner they can recommend dietary and medicinal treatment options.

People experiencing recurring symptoms of celiac disease should contact a doctor for assessment.

A person with a diagnosis should seek medical help if previous symptoms return suddenly or worsen or if the person experiences unexplained fatigue.

Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). It causes chronic inflammation in the GI tract, most often in the small intestine.

Some common symptoms of Crohn’s disease include:

  • chronic diarrhea
  • unexplained weight loss
  • stomach pain
  • bloody stools
  • fatigue

Crohn’s disease may be due to an autoimmune reaction to certain bacteria in the digestive tract. However, genetic and environmental factors can play a role as well.

People with Crohn’s disease often require drugs to reduce the inflammation. Some people may also require bowel rests to help the intestines heal, or surgery.

Learn about the five types of Crohn’s disease and their symptoms here.

When to contact a doctor

Crohn’s disease is a serious condition that requires medicinal or surgical treatment.

People should contact a doctor to test for Crohn’s disease if they experience any of the above symptoms. The sooner that a person can treat and control their flare-ups, the better chance they have of avoiding complications in the future.

Individuals with the condition should seek emergency medical help if their treatments appear to have stopped working or if symptoms become more frequent or severe.

UC is a type of IBD that causes inflammation in the rectum and large intestine. The inflammation can also spread to other parts of the intestine over time.

Some symptoms of UC may include:

  • long-term diarrhea
  • unexplained weight loss
  • tiredness
  • abdominal pain

As with other types of IBD, what triggers UC could be a combination of an autoimmune response, genetics, and environmental causes.

When to contact a doctor

People without a previous diagnosis of UC should seek immediate medical help if they experience any of the above symptoms. Doctors will be able to determine whether the person has the condition or not and suggest a treatment plan if necessary.

Treatment may involve dietary changes, medications to manage inflammation and reduce symptoms, or surgery. The sooner that a person starts treating their UC, the better their long-term outlook will be.

Individuals with UC should contact a doctor if they experience severe or recurring flare-ups.

Other less common digestive disorders can cause stomach issues. A person experiencing any of the below symptoms should contact a doctor immediately for testing and potential treatment.

Hirschsprung’s disease

Hirschsprung’s disease is a rare condition that people are born with. It involves the body’s inability to reflexively open the internal anal sphincter.

Symptoms in newborns may include:

  • not passing their first bowel movement within 48 hours of birth
  • constipation
  • vomiting
  • swollen stomach

Symptoms occurring later in life may include:

The usual treatment for Hirschsprung’s disease is surgery.

Achalasia

Achalasia is a rare condition that typically affects adults aged 25–60 years. It occurs when the esophagus loses the ability to move food toward the stomach, and the valve at the end may fail to open.

Symptoms may include:

  • the sensation while eating that food is not “going down”
  • heartburn
  • regurgitation of food
  • coughing or choking during sleep

Treatment may involve medication or surgery.

Ménétrier disease

Ménétrier disease occurs when the mucous membrane that lines the stomach overgrows and leads to large gastric folds.

Some symptoms that people may experience are:

  • pain in the upper middle region of the stomach
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea

However, some people have no symptoms. Doctors do not know the exact cause of Ménétrier disease.

Treatment may involve medications or potentially a gastrectomy, which is the surgical removal of part or all of the stomach.

Doctors may begin trying to diagnose a digestive condition by performing a physical examination and asking questions about an individual’s symptoms and medical history. For example, a doctor may ask about:

  • medications a person takes
  • their diet and lifestyle
  • whether any relatives have digestive conditions

They may then proceed to order tests such as:

  • blood tests, which may help detect celiac disease, inflammation, or signs of infection
  • stool tests, which can detect inflammation and examine the bacteria in a person’s gut
  • endoscopy, which involves a doctor inserting a tiny camera into the esophagus to examine the upper GI tract
  • colonoscopy, during which a doctor inserts a tiny camera into the rectum to examine the lower GI tract
  • lactulose breath tests, which doctors use to diagnose SIBO
  • medical imaging, such as CT scans, ultrasounds, and X-rays

A person may need to consult different medical professionals while getting a diagnosis. For instance, they may consult a primary care physician, gastroenterologists, or dietitians, among others.

There are many digestive disorders, ranging from common to rare. Many involve similar symptoms, which can make them difficult to diagnose.

If a person notices that they have symptoms that are not normal for them, they should seek medical advice to rule out serious conditions, receive a diagnosis, and begin to undergo treatment.