Silent and Potentially Deadly Common Gastrointestinal Conditions That Can Go Undetected

Everyone has some tummy trouble now and again, but sometimes the issue goes beyond taking an antacid and calling it a day. In fact, those uncomfortable symptoms could be more than just “part of life.” If that’s the case, why is it so difficult for some conditions to be recognized (and treated)?

While we can only theorize, here are a few ideas as to why certain issues go undetected for weeks, months or even years:

  1. People are too embarrassed to discuss the symptoms they are experiencing with their physician.
  2. People tend to ignore symptoms, chalking it up to poor diet (partially true) or a sign of aging.
  3. The condition has been misdiagnosed, because symptoms can be the result of numerous conditions.

Regardless of the reasoning, a gastrointestinal disaster can be secretly lurking. Here are some common disorders that seem to fly under the radar:

Celiac Disease

Celiac disease is a condition in which the small intestine becomes damaged after consuming gluten. Gluten is a protein found in rye, wheat and barley that helps these grains retain their shape. It is commonly found in foods, such as:

  • Bread
  • Crackers
  • Pasta
  • Seasoning/spice mixes

Less common foods that may contain gluten include:

  • Certain condiments
  • Chicken broth
  • Malt vinegar
  • Soy sauce
  • Veggie burgers

While this sounds like nothing more than an inconvenient allergy, the ramifications are more severe. Unfortunately, the small intestine is where the body takes a lot of the nutrients found in food. If it’s damaged from celiac, it can lead to malabsorption syndrome. With this syndrome, vitamins and minerals may not be absorbed through the intestine into the bloodstream for the body to use.

To make matters worse, a delay in diagnosis significantly increases a patient’s chance of developing neurological issues, osteoporosis, certain autoimmune disorders and even infertility. To put it in perspective, the average length of time it takes for a symptomatic person to be diagnosed with celiac disease in the U.S. is four years.

Patients may suspect celiac if they experience any of the following:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Anemia
  • Bloating
  • Dermatitis herpetiformis (skin rash)
  • Diarrhea
  • Gas
  • Joint and bone pain
  • Muscle cramps
  • Weight loss

Crohn’s Disease

Crohn’s disease is categorized as an inflammatory bowel disease (along with its friend, ulcerative colitis, that only affects the large intestine). It is an autoimmune disorder causing inflammation in the intestines that can actually spread because the body’s immune system is attacking the digestive tract.

Much like celiac disease, Crohn’s is also associated with malabsorption due to the havoc it wreaks on the intestines. Sadly, the buck doesn’t stop there when it comes to the damage that can be done with this disorder. Other possibly hazardous issues that can develop include:

  • Anemia
  • Fistulas, an abnormal connection between different body parts (e.g., intestine and another organ, intestine and skin)
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Increased risk of colon cancer
  • Liver disease
  • Osteoporosis

Symptoms to keep an eye out for include:

  • Abdominal cramping and pain
  • Bloody stool
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Mouth sores
  • Perianal disease (pain or drainage around the anus due to fistulas)
  • Reduced appetite
  • Unintended weight loss

In patients with a more severe case of Crohn’s, symptoms may also include:

  • Delayed sexual development (only in children)
  • Inflammation of the bile ducts
  • Irritation of the skin, joints and eyes

It’s important to note that up to one-half of patients with Crohn’s will likely need surgery at some point to effectively treat the condition, which is all the more reason to detect it sooner than later.

No matter what issue you may be experiencing, the takeaway is to always trust your gut and speak to a specialist about your symptoms. At Gastroenterology Associates of New Jersey (GANJ), our highly-skilled gastroenterologists evaluate, diagnose and treat gastrointestinal conditions and diseases, including the “undetected” ones.

For more information or to schedule an appointment, contact us today.