Alarm symptoms!

Digestive symptoms may stem from a temporary illness such as a flu, a reaction to certain medications, or a more chronic underlying condition (see table below). The following symptoms signal a problem that requires prompt medical attention:

• Diarrhea that lasts more than five days

• Unintended weightloss

• Persistent vomiting

• Black tarry stools

• Bright red blood in your stool or bloody diarrhea

• Unexplained fatigue

• Pain in the stomacharea that improves or worsens when you eat

• Persistent fever

• Pain when having a bowel movement

• Localized abdominal pain

• Abdominal pain that is persistent and severe or that wakes you from sleep

• Difficulty swallowing, chest pain, feeling there is an obstruction in your throat

• Persistent heartburn that is not relieved withover-the-counterant acids

If you have these alarm symptoms, your family doctor may refer you to a gastroenterologist – a doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases affecting the digestive system.

Symptom Possible digestive disorder


IBD, celiac disease, colon or other digestive cancer



Chest pain



IBS, diverticular disease, colon cancer

Decreased appetite

Peptic ulcer, stomach or pancreatic cancer


IBD, IBS, celiac disease, lactose intolerance

Difficulty swallowing

Complicated GERD, esophageal cancer or infection



Mucus in/with stool

Bowel infection, IBD, colon cancer


Food poisoning, ulcer disease, intestinal blockage, stomach cancer, pancreatic cancer

Rectal bleeding

Hemorrhoids, IBD, colon cancer

Stomach pains/cramps

IBD, IBS, ulcer, gallstones, pancreatitis, cancer, appendicitis, diverticular disease

IBD = inflammatory bowel disease; IBS = irritable bowel syndrome; GERD = gastro-esophageal reflux disease.

Source: Canadian Digestive Health Foundation