Mysterious bloating, unexplained constipation or diarrhea, embarrassing gas, abdominal pain that seems to come out of nowhere…
I see patients day in and day out who are dealing with any number of these symptoms with no explanation of what’s causing them.
Sometimes they’ve been diagnosed with IBS, which is pretty much your doctor’s way of saying you have digestive issues and we don’t know why. Other times they’re just told it’s normal and to try over-the-counter medications. This is exactly what happened to me when I struggled needlessly with unexplained digestive symptoms the first 25+ years of my life.
The truth is, patients deserve better. There’s no need to just accept these symptoms as a fact of life and something to push through. You deserve for your healthcare provider to take the time to dig deep and actually uncover and treat the root cause behind these issues.
That’s the core principle of functional medicine, and in my experience working with patients in my functional medicine clinic, there are 4 common issues that get overlooked as the root-cause of unexplained digestive symptoms.
So let’s walk through them to help you see if they may be contributing to your issues.
4 Causes of Unexplained Digestive Issues
1. Food Sensitivities
Food sensitivities happen when you have an IgG of IgA immune response to eating a certain food. Unlike food allergies, which are caused by an IgE immune response, it can take up to 72 hours for symptoms to appear and they can be far more diverse and vague.
They can cause anything from gas, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea, to headaches, brain fog, and skin rashes.
Since the symptoms can be so delayed and varied, and most conventional doctors only test for food allergies, they often get overlooked. However, using a strict elimination diet protocol or food sensitivity testing, it’s possible to pinpoint your exact trigger foods so that you can eliminate symptoms.
2. Thyroid Dysfunction
GI symptoms frequently go hand in hand with both types of thyroid dysfunction – hypothyroidism often seen with Hashimoto’s, and hyperthyroidism commonly caused by Graves’.
If your thyroid is underactive, all of your metabolic processes are slowed down, which can cause constipation, bloating, and weight gain.
On the other hand, if your thyroid is overactive, your metabolism is in overdrive, often leading to diarrhea and unexplained weight loss.
An estimated 60% of all people with a thyroid problem are undiagnosed thanks to a lack of testing and outdated testing criteria. So if you suspect you may have a thyroid condition it’s certainly possible, even if your doctor says your labs are fine.
3. Gut Infections
There are 3 incredibly common gut infections that I see in my patients that conventional medicine very seldom identify, either because they just don’t test for them at all or they’re not testing broadly enough.
The first is Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth or SIBO, which occurs when there is an overgrowth of bacteria (either good or bad bacteria) in the small intestine. It’s symptoms look a lot like IBS and in fact, new research has found that 50% of all IBS cases are actually undiagnosed SIBO.
The second is Candida or yeast overgrowth which takes over your digestive tract and can lead to GI symptoms, along with brain fog, fatigue, skin rashes, and itching.
The third is intestinal parasites, which are actually a lot more common than you might think, even if you haven’t traveled abroad.
All three of these can lead to mysterious GI symptoms in and of themselves. However, they also all lead to leaky gut, which can cause even more digestive symptoms and puts you at risk for other serious health challenges down the road.
4. Autoimmune Conditions
Autoimmune diseases occur when your immune system goes rogue and attacks your body’s own tissue. There are three autoimmune conditions that attack parts of the digestive tract specifically. These are Celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, and Ulcerative Colitis.
These conditions can cause severe symptoms, such as intense abdominal pain, ulcers, and intestinal bleeding, along with fatigue, anemia, and nutrient deficiencies.
They are often difficult to diagnose because the symptoms can present very differently from patient to patient, and they overlap with other conditions.
Unfortunately, many patients suffer for years with their doctors brushing off their symptoms or misdiagnosing them before finally pinpointing the problem.
While these are the 4 most common causes of unexplained digestive symptoms I see in my patients, each person is unique and many of these issues actually overlap with one another.
That’s why it’s so important to take the time to really listen to the patient’s history, order the right testing, and look at the body as an interconnected whole, so that nothing is overlooked.
And on the patient’s end, it’s critical to have the right mindset and commit to making the changes that will get real, lasting results rather than settling for a band-aid solution.
About the Author: Dr. Seth Osgood is a Doctor of Nursing Practice, Board Certified Family Nurse Practitioner and Institute of Functional Medicine (IFM) Certified Practitioner. Dr. Osgood received his post-graduate training in Functional Medicine through the IFM and from working with Dr. Amy Myers. He has helped people from around the world improve their health utilizing a Functional Medicine approach.