Minor stomach discomfort can come and go, but persistent stomach pain can be a sign of a serious health problem.

If you have chronic digestive issues such as bloating, abdominal pain, and diarrhea, your primary care physician will probably refer you to a specialist. A gastroenterologist is a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating disorders of the digestive system.

Doctor’s appointments can be hectic and a bit stressful, especially when you’re seeking a diagnosis. You depend on your doctor to figure out what’s wrong and what the best course of treatment is.

Your doctor relies on you to provide as much information as you can, and to ask questions.

Working in partnership with your doctor will help move you toward a diagnosis. Then you can begin treatment, learn how to manage your symptoms, and improve your quality of life.

Below, we’ve compiled a list of helpful and important questions to ask your doctor about the stomach discomfort you’re feeling.

Gastroenterologists deal with the entire gastrointestinal (GI) system. This includes the:

  • esophagus
  • stomach
  • liver
  • pancreas
  • bile ducts
  • gallbladder
  • small and large intestines

Going over your symptoms will help your doctor have some idea where the problem originates. Some conditions that can cause abdominal discomfort are:

  • Addison’s disease
  • diverticulitis
  • exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI)
  • gastroparesis
  • gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which includes ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease
  • pancreatitis
  • ulcers

Food sensitivities may also cause discomfort. You may be sensitive to:

  • artificial sweeteners
  • fructose
  • gluten
  • lactose

GI problems can also be due to:

  • bacterial infection
  • parasitic infection
  • previous surgery involving the digestive tract
  • viruses

After assessing your symptoms and medical history, your doctor will have a better idea of which tests are most likely to lead to a diagnosis. These tests matter because many disorders of the digestive tract have overlapping symptoms and can be misdiagnosed.

Careful testing will help guide your doctor to the correct diagnosis.

Some GI tests are:

  • abdominal imaging tests using ultrasound, CT scan, or MRI
  • barium swallow, or upper GI series, using X-rays to look at your upper GI tract
  • upper GI endoscopy to diagnose and treat problems in your upper GI tract
  • barium enema, an imaging test that uses X-rays to look at your lower GI tract
  • sigmoidoscopy, a test to check the lower part of your colon
  • colonoscopy, a procedure that checks the inside of your entire large intestine
  • fecal, urine, and blood analysis
  • pancreatic function tests

Further questions to ask about testing:

  • What’s the procedure like? Is it invasive? Do I have to do anything to prepare?
  • How and when can I expect results?
  • Will the results be definitive or is it just to exclude something?

Your doctor may be able to prescribe medication to relieve symptoms even before there’s a diagnosis. Or they may recommend over-the-counter (OTC) medications that can help.

Ask about common side effects, drug interactions, how long you can take them, and if there are particular OTC medications you should avoid.

Since you’re dealing with stomach discomfort, you may be experiencing appetite loss. Or maybe you’ve noticed that certain foods worsen your symptoms.

Your doctor can give you a better idea of foods that are less likely to upset the stomach.

If you have a poor appetite or unexplained weight loss, you may need to supplement your diet with vitamins and minerals.

Certain disorders, such as Crohn’s disease, EPI, and ulcerative colitis, can interfere with your body’s ability to absorb nutrients.

Certain things, such as smoking or drinking alcohol and caffeine, can exacerbate stomach discomfort. Tell your doctor if you engage in strenuous physical activity that may aggravate symptoms.

Depending on your symptoms and general health, your doctor can recommend specific practices, such as yoga, tai chi, or deep breathing exercises that may help you de-stress and stretch your muscles.

If you don’t have a diagnosis yet, your doctor can give you an idea of typical treatments for GI problems, so you’re aware of what to expect.

Also, learning about your options ahead of a diagnosis can help you make more educated decisions later on.

While waiting for a diagnosis, it can be tempting to dismiss new or worsening symptoms. But you should be aware of the signs that you need immediate medical attention.

For instance:

  • blood or pus in your stools
  • chest pain
  • fever
  • severe diarrhea and dehydration
  • sudden, severe abdominal pain
  • vomiting

Chronic stomach pain and GI symptoms can affect your happiness and quality of life. If you’re experiencing things like bloating, gas, and diarrhea consistently, make an appointment with your doctor.

Make sure to write down all your symptoms, and try to see if you can narrow down any triggers by keeping a symptom journal. The more information you’re able to share with your doctor, the easier it will be for them to give you the right diagnosis.