We’ve all experienced an upset stomach from time to time. Whether it stems from eating something that didn’t agree with us, an intestinal flu, or experiencing anxious nerves, there are a lot of factors that can cause gastrointestinal distress. Knowing how to differentiate between a passing stomach bug and a more serious issue is important for ensuring you get the care you need. 

If you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms, it could be an early indicator of a gastrointestinal condition that needs medical attention.

Abdominal Pain or Cramping

Abdominal discomfort may trouble anyone on occasion. Certain foods such as dairy products, acidic foods, fried or fatty foods, alcohol, spicy foods, alcohol, and artificial sweeteners can cause temporary gastrointestinal distress. When you experience cramping or pain regularly, however, it’s time to investigate. Painful cramps are a common symptom of several gastrointestinal conditions, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), diverticulitis, ulcer disease, and pancreatitis, among others.

Bloating and Gas

Bloating occurs when excess gas builds up in the gastrointestinal system. Fermentable ingredients such as those found in dairy products, wheat, onion, certain fruits, and cauliflower can trigger bloating and gas in certain individuals, including those with IBS. Dietary modifications may be worth exploring if bloating tends to be a recurring issue for you, but it’s also good to determine whether a root cause such as IBS could be to blame. Sometimes, bloating and constipation can also go hand-in-hand, as gas can accumulate with fewer bowel movements.


Difficulty passing stools can have any of several causes. Healthy bowel movements require adequate hydration, enough fiber, and regular exercise. Some women experience constipation during pregnancy, while aging is also linked to the condition, as the gastrointestinal system tends to slow down over time. Being stressed or having too much dairy can also cause constipation for some people. If you’ve ruled out these causes and constipation persists, it could be an indicator of a gastrointestinal condition, such as diverticular disease.


Causes of diarrhea can span far and wide, from certain medications, to stress and too much spicy or greasy food. The occasional bout likely isn’t anything to worry about, but persistent diarrhea may indicate IBS or even some cancers. Since ongoing diarrhea puts you at risk of nutritional deficiencies and dehydration regardless of the cause, it’s a good idea to consult a doctor when the symptom persists for more than a few days.


Your gastrointestinal system includes more than just your bowels and stomach. Your throat, esophagus, and even mouth are also considered components. Which is why heartburn could be a symptom of a deeper gastrointestinal condition that needs medical attention. 

While it’s common to experience the unpleasant burning sensation after eating a spicy meal or having a bubbly beverage, it’s not considered normal when the symptom persists. For some people, recurring heartburn could be an indicator of GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease. In this condition, stomach acid flows back up your esophagus, irritating its delicate lining. If you find yourself reaching for heartburn meds more than twice a week, or your heartburn is severe, schedule an appointment with one of our providers.

For help getting to the bottom of your distressing stomach issues, turn to University Health Alliance. Our gastroenterologists can provide an accurate diagnosis and help you find the best treatment for your needs. View our locations online or schedule an appointment by calling 762-356-4933.