Gastrointestinal Disorders Diagnosis

The bloated, uncertain feeling in your lower stomach that makes you want to stay at home next to your bathroom still hasn’t gone away. It’s been at least two weeks and you are starting to get worried. Does this sound familiar? If so, there are numerous possible causes, and you’ll need to see your physician to determine what is causing your discomfort.

I started experiencing these feelings over five years ago. I put off seeing my doctor about it for a month or so, just hoping it would go away on its own. So, when I finally saw my doctor, she recommended getting some diagnostic tests done to get a definitive diagnosis. I will go over the testing procedures, commonly diagnosed conditions that have these symptoms, and what can be done to treat your condition.

The symptoms of constipation, diarrhea, bloating, gas, stomach aches, and cramping are common to many conditions. Among the most common are: irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease and other forms of inflammatory bowel disease, lactose intolerance, celiac disease, and other food intolerances and allergies.

Some of the tests that may be used to determine your diagnosis are: upper gastrointestinal series, barium enema, sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy, stool analysis, and blood tests. Which tests you will take will depend upon your age and symptoms, which will enable your doctor to make a decision on what will work the best for you. The following is a run down of what the tests are like.

The easiest of all the tests, unless you have a needle phobia, are the blood tests. Blood tests can verify if you have celiac disease or heliobacter pelori (bacteria that causes ulcers). The blood tests are much quicker and involve less prepping, if any, than the tests that look at your gastrointestinal system.

Lactose intolerance can be tested by your doctor, or your physician may have you do a less formal test at home yourself. The at home test is basically avoiding all dairy products for three to four days in a row, and then on the next day, drinking a full glass of milk on an empty stomach. Observe any reactions. Then about four hours later, consume another serving of milk. If you experience bloating, gas, cramping, and/or diarrhea, you more than likely are lactose intolerant. There are a few ways that you can circumvent the discomfort of having lactose intolerance. You can avoid dairy products by using alternative sources of milk products, such as rice milk, soy milk, and other vegan alternatives to dairy. You can take over the counter lactase tablets with your dairy products to alleviate the discomfort before it starts, since the lactase breaks down the lactose in the dairy products. There are drops of lactase that you can add to the milk before you drink it, or you can buy lactose free milk

The upper gastrointestinal series (UGI) examines the upper and middle part of the intestinal tract. To perform the UGI, you must consume a drink of barium and water. Sometimes this drink is combined with gas-producing crystals that are swallowed alone or with water. The doctor uses fluoroscopy connected to a video monitor to watch the barium progress through your esophagus. Several X-ray pictures are taken at different times and from different directions throughout the procedure. When I had my UGI, I had to drink a large cup of the barium mixture before the test started, then drink the crystals, then drink more barium through a straw while the doctor used the fluoroscopy to watch my swallowing reflex and esophagus in action. Overall, the worst part of the procedure is having to drink so much barium. After the testing is completed, you will want to make sure that you get all of the barium out or your system, as it is pasty and will cling to the intestines. It can exacerbate constipation, so your doctor might advise you to use a mineral oil enema, which will loosen the barium and help you expel it from your system.

For the barium enema, colonoscopy, and sigmoidoscopy you will need to do an entire system cleanse. Your physician will tell you the proper method to do this. I had to fast 24 hours and use a cleansing kit that I bought over the counter at a pharmacy.

The sigmoidoscopy uses a fiber optic cable or a small video recorder attached to a cable that is about 2 feet long and 0.5 inches wide, called a sigmoidoscope. The physician will use this scope to look at your lower colon. It can detect polyps, hemorrhoids, and other abnormal structures in the lower colon. You generally do not receive any sort of sedation during this procedure. It is mildly uncomfortable, but the bright side is that it is over in about 15 minutes.

A colonoscopy, on the other hand, is a more invasive procedure using either a fiber optic cable or a video recorder attached to the colonoscope that can range from four feet to six feet long. The colonoscope gets a more in depth view at your system using the longer cable. During a colonoscopy, you may be given a pain killer or sedative through an IV.

The barium enema is a procedure to that allows the observation of the flow of the barium through your colon. There are two types of barium enemas: single contrast or double contrast. In a single contrast your colon will be filled with barium from an IV bag with an enema tip and X-rays will be taken. In a double contrast, the barium is inserted, then drained, and then air is injected into the colon. The double contrast gives a more detailed view of the colon. You will lay on a table, which can be cold and uncomfortable, to have the X-rays taken. The barium and the air both make you feel as if you need to have a bowel movement. It is uncomfortable, but the air and/or barium are only held for about 10 or 15 minutes. The procedure takes anywhere from 30-60 minutes due to letting the barium flow into your system, and then having X-rays taken after you have gotten most of the barium out of your system.

Try not to worry too much about barium or air leaking out of you while on the table. The healthcare professionals do these procedures routinely, and leaks can and do occasionally happen. It is also sort of embarrassing going to the restroom to expel the barium and air, as it can be quite loud, but it is important to get as much out as you can. Like the upper GI procedure when you drink the barium, you want to drink plenty of fluids and maybe use a mineral oil enema to help get the barium out of your system.

Overall, it is important to keep in mind during some of the more unpleasant aspects of these tests, which is making sure that there isn’t anything physically causing your digestive grief. And if there is something physically causing it, you can get it taken care of. As with all medical problems, the earlier you detect something, the better off you are.

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