Is my gut inflamed? How to assess whether you have an inflamed gastrointestinal tract...

Getting to the bottom of your belly pain and diarrhea

What is inflammation of the GI tract?

The term inflammatory bowel disease describes a group of disorders in which the intestines (gut) become inflamed. It has often been thought of as an autoimmune condition where your immune system launches an attack on it’s own organs. However, it is not that simple.  Instead, it is a result of the immune system attacking a harmless virus, bacteria, or food in the gut, causing inflammation that leads to bowel injury. This injury can cause many symptoms that thousands of patients experience every year.

There are two major types of inflammatory bowel diseases, named: Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s Disease. Ulcerative Colitis is limited to the colon or large intestine. Crohn’s Disease, on the other hand, can involve any part of the gastrointestinal tract from the mouth to the anus. Most commonly, though, it affects the last part of the small intestine or the colon or both. Because of the variability of these 2 conditions, symptoms can range from bloody diarrhea, mild abdominal pain, bloating, weight loss or even symptoms not related to the GI tract (rashes, sores, joint pain, eye discomfort and kidney stones).

If you have an IBD, you know it usually runs a waxing and waning course. When there is severe inflammation, the disease is considered active and the person experiences a flare-up of symptoms. When there is less or no inflammation, the person usually is without symptoms and the disease is said to be in remission.

How do I get to the bottom of my belly pain?

Abdominal pain is pain that occurs between the chest and pelvic regions. Abdominal pain can be crampy, achy, dull, intermittent or sharp. It’s also called a stomachache. How you feel may be very different than someone else. Belly pain is highly variable and can manifest in all different ways.

Inflammation or diseases that affect the organs in the abdomen can cause abdominal pain. Major organs located in the abdomen include:

  • intestines (small and large)
  • kidneys
  • appendix (a part of the large intestine)
  • spleen
  • stomach
  • gallbladder
  • liver
  • pancreas

Viral, bacterial, or parasitic infections that affect the stomach and intestines may also cause significant abdominal pain. Sometimes it hard to know when and where you were affected. Sometimes food poisoning ( can also cause linger belly pain that can last for months.

What causes abdominal pain?

Abdominal pain can be caused by many conditions. However, the main causes are infection, abnormal growths, inflammation, obstruction (blockage), and intestinal disorders. Sometimes the cause is difficult to uncover and may require stool tests (, allergy tests or blood test to get to the bottom of it.

Infections in the throat, intestines, and blood can cause bacteria to enter your digestive tract, resulting in abdominal pain. These infections may also cause changes in digestion, such as diarrhea or constipation. While it is sometimes hard to pinpoint when you were affected, it is important to think about potential exposures.

Cramps associated with menstruation are also a potential source of lower abdominal pain, but more commonly these are known to cause pelvic pain.

Other common causes of abdominal pain include:

  • constipation
  • diarrhea
  • gastroenteritis (stomach flu)
  • acid reflux (when stomach contents leak backward into the esophagus, causing heartburn and other symptoms)
  • vomiting
  • stress

Diseases that affect the digestive system can also cause chronic abdominal pain. The most common are:

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
Irritable bowel syndrome or spastic colon (a disorder that causes abdominal pain, cramping, and changes in bowel movements)
Crohn’s disease (an inflammatory bowel disease)
Lactose intolerance (the inability to digest lactose, the sugar found in milk and milk products)
SIBO (Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth)
Leaky Gut

How do I know if I have abdominal pain?
Abdominal pain can be described as localized, cramp-like, or colicky.

Localized pain is limited to one area of the abdomen. This type of pain is often caused by problems in a particular organ. The most common cause of localized pain is stomach ulcers (open sores on the inner lining of the stomach).

Cramp-like pain may be associated with diarrhea, constipation, bloating, or flatulence. In women, it can be associated with menstruation, miscarriage, or complications in the female reproductive organs. This pain comes and goes, and may completely subside on its own without treatment.

Colicky pain is a symptom of more severe conditions, such as gallstones or kidney stones. This pain occurs suddenly and may feel like a severe muscle spasm.

I have chronic diarrhea… is it serious?

Diarrhea is a digestive condition that causes loose or watery stools. Many people experience diarrhea at some point. These bouts are often acute and resolve in a couple of days with no complications. Other people, however, live with diarrhea that persists for more than 2-4 weeks. This is called chronic diarrhea.

Acute, or short-term, diarrhea usually isn’t serious. But chronic loose, watery stools can lead to problems if left untreated. So it’s important to understand the cause of this type of diarrhea and treat any underlying condition.

Symptoms of chronic diarrhea

The main symptom of chronic diarrhea is loose or watery stools that persist for weeks. These stools may or may not be accompanied by a sense of urgency. You may have other symptoms as well, such as:

  • abdominal cramps
  • bloating
  • nausea

Causes of chronic diarrhea

Chronic diarrhea is sometimes caused by an underlying medical condition. 

During your virtual appointment, your doctor may ask about your symptoms. For example, how often do you have loose stools? Do you have any other symptoms? Is there a personal or family history of digestive problems? Blood tests and stool tests to check for inflammation.(

Inflammatory conditions that can cause loose, watery stools include which we discussed above. These conditions can also cause bloody stools and abdominal pain.

A stool sample, which examines feces, may reveal elevated white blood cells. This can be a sign of inflammation in your body or bacteria or parasites in your stool. The latter can also cause loose stools. This sample may also reveal fat in your stool, which can indicate chronic pancreatitis (damage to the pancreas from prolonged inflammation) or celiac disease.

Your diet can also play a role in chronic diarrhea. Certain ingredients speed up the rate of digestion, causing food to pass rapidly through the colon. Common culprits include milk and artificial sweeteners (sorbitol and fructose).

Other causes of chronic diarrhea may include:

  • medications — NSAIDs, antibiotics, antacids
  • diabetes
  • gluten insensitivity
  • alcohol abuse

Sometimes, the cause of chronic diarrhea is unknown. If diagnostic tests don’t reveal an abnormality, your doctor may attribute chronic diarrhea to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

This condition affects the large intestines and causes a variety of symptoms like diarrhea, constipation, bloating, nausea, and abdominal pain. IBS can be chronic, but it doesn't damage the large intestines.

The Bottom Line

Overall getting to the bottom of whether your gut has inflammation is important. It is important so you know what is going on in the inside of your body. It is easy to take control of your health simply, and from the comfort of your home. So kick back and relax and enjoy better health!