Why you should not ignore these digestive problems 

Most of the time symptoms improve on their own. However, if your symptoms persist or worsen, contact your doctor. PHOTO | COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • Most people have got used to living with gut issues such as bloating, diarrhoea, and constipation. However, while you may feel these issues are just a normal part of life, they may be your body’s way of communicating a greater problem. 

It is important to have a healthy gut but many times, we ignore the signs and symptoms that may indicate an underlying problem in the digestive system. These problems are treated by a specialist doctor known as a gastroenterologist (digestive doctor), who treats disorders in the pancreas, esophagus, throat, intestines, stomach, and the diseases in the gastrointestinal tract.

According to Dr Deo Lukyamuzi Kizza, a gastroenterologist at Case Hospital in Kampala, digestive disorders are on the rise because of our lifestyle and the types of foods we consume. Many resort to junk foods that contain high amounts of oil, salt and sugar. 

Stomach ulcers

Ulcers are one of the commonest digestive problems according to Dr Lukyamuzi and as soon as one is diagnosed with this disorder, it is important that they see a specialist to have them treated. 

Chronic burping (belching) may be a symptom of inflammation of the stomach lining caused by Helicobacter pylori bacteria. He remarks that ulcers are treatable and curable but their full and complete treatment takes at least  two months. 

“If they have not healed within this time, then one might be suffering from Gastroesophageal reflux disease(GERD), Hernia, polyps, cancer of the stomach or esophagus and any other tumour in the stomach. Once the digestive doctor notices stomach ulcers that do not heal, they will immediately investigate any of the above problems. Cancer of the stomach can be treated and cured once diagnosed early,” he says.

He adds that what usually aggravates ulcers is self-medication, which is common today. Many people go and buy over the counter medicine to treat ulcers but end up worsening the condition since they do not know what medicine to take and for how long.


Many have experienced at least an episode of constipation in their lifetime (when a bowel movement is painful and stressful). It may be caused by dehydration, some medication, a sudden change in one’s food habits, changes in sleep pattern or travelling, or not chewing the food properly. It makes the body toxic since the waste is stuck inside and if this goes on for some time, one has to receive treatment.


This is when stomach acids are backed up in the esophagus the reason frequent heartburn may be a sign of GERD. Belching, a sound made by the air in the esophagus. may be due to GERD. This reflux may also lead to ulcers, and a burning sensation that may worsen one’s appetite.

“This disease usually manifests as heartburn; a painful burning feeling in your throat that occurs when the stomach acids come back to the esophagus,” Dr Lukyamuzi says.

Getting this warning symptom treated is important as over time, reflux can lead to severe damage to the food pipe. He, therefore, recommends those that have frequent heartburn to get proper diagnosis and treatment before the condition worsens. 


Bloating is the accumulation of gas or air in the stomach and intestines. It may be due to the reactions of gut bacteria to certain foods or swallowing excessive air while eating or talking. It makes you feel full even when you have eaten very little food.  It usually goes back to normal once the food is digested but if you experience prolonged bloating with pain and sometimes vomiting, there could be an underlying problem that must be investigated by a digestive doctor. 

Bloody stool

Dr Lukyamuzi says complications such as irregular bowel movements (constipation), hemorrhoids and colon cancer can make one bleed through stool. Hemorrhoids (piles) are swollen and inflamed veins in the lower rectum and anus that are caused by straining of the vein during bowel movements, pregnancy and obesity. This bleeding should never be ignored and should be treated as an emergency.


The commonest symptom of pancreatitis is swelling of the pancreas, which is a small gland in the digestive system. It is usually accompanied by abdominal pain, nausea, tenderness in the abdomen region, acute pain after eating and vomiting. It may start suddenly and last for days. 

It is caused by gallstones, alcohol consumption, cystic fibrosis, pancreatic cancer or obesity. On noticing any of the above symptoms, one should seek immediate medical attention.

‘‘There are other symptoms and digestive disorders that should never be ignored such as bitterness and drying of the mouth, diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting of blood, pain in the upper abdomen, irritable bowel syndrome, hernia, lactose intolerance, or if you experience pain and difficulty while swallowing food and water, it is a sign of infection in your esophagus or throat through which the food particles pass,’’ Dr Lukyamuzi says.

Celiac disease

It is a type of autoimmune disorder triggered by gluten. Gluten is a type of protein present in grains such as wheat, barley and rye. Therefore, foods such as bread, baked goods, meat substitutes, pasta, pizza, salad dressings and beer, among others contain gluten. 

Celiac disease affects people with gluten sensitivity or gluten allergy. Therefore, they cannot eat gluten-containing foods. However, if they eat gluten, they develop severe symptoms and reactions. 

The symptoms of celiac disease include diarrhoea, fatigue, bloating, abdominal pain, weight loss, constipation, nausea, and vomiting. Severe cases may cause anaemia or a decrease in iron in the body, osteoporosis, ulcers, and nervous system injuries. Therefore, it is essential to consult a doctor if you experience severe symptoms of celiac disease.