How to Test for Stomach Problems

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Stomach troubles like heartburn, burping, bloating, and abdominal cramping affect everyone at one time or another. The American Gastroenterological Association reports 25% of Americans regularly struggle with indigestion, 10% to 20% struggle with irritable bowl syndrome, also known as IBS, and one in 20 has chronic diarrhea. To ease symptoms, many doctors will recommend making dietary changes such as adding more fiber to the diet. Too often there is no relief, however. In that case it’s wise to get tested for digestive problems to rule out other, more serious diseases or disorders

Things You'll Need

  • An annual routine examination by your primary care doctor
  • Referral to a specialist, if required by your insurer
  • Appointment with a gastroenterologist
Everyone is affected by stomach troubles at one time or another.
Everyone is affected by stomach troubles at one time or another. (Image: Igor Mojzes/iStock/Getty Images)

Step 1

Request a test to rule out Crohn’s disease, a chronic inflammatory bowel disease that causes painful stomach cramps. Exams include an abdominal X-ray that looks for obstructions in the stomach area and an upper gastrointestinal series, or UGI, which looks at the entire small intestine. You will have to drink a liquid barium shake to get a good, clear X-ray of the esophagus, stomach and the small intestine. Another option is an endoscopy. A thin, flexible tube with a camera on the end is put down your throat and through your stomach and duodenum. Mild sedation will prevent any discomfort.

Request a test to rule out Crohn's disease.
Request a test to rule out Crohn's disease. (Image: Jupiterimages/Creatas/Getty Images)

Step 2

Undergo a gastric emptying study, which is a test to show activity in the stomach after a meal. You will eat a scrambled egg with a very small amount of radioactive material, and then lie on a table while a scanner moves slowly over your stomach. If results of this study indicate your food empties either slowly or too quickly, your doctor will prescribe medications to improve your symptoms. There are no side effects from this study. Your body will not absorb the radioactive material, which is eliminated in the stool.

Undergo a gastric emptying study.
Undergo a gastric emptying study. (Image: vikif/iStock/Getty Images)

Step 3

Get an ultrasound. During this exam, a small a mount of water-soluble gel will be applied to your skin over the stomach area. A wand-like device (transducer) is gently passed over your skin. High frequency sound waves are transmitted through body tissues and send computer images of the gallbladder, liver, and kidneys. Cysts, abnormal growths, gallstones or certain cancers may show up. There is no discomfort during this test, and ultrasound does not use radiation. No special preparation is needed.

Ultrasounds aren't just used to diagnose pregnancy.
Ultrasounds aren't just used to diagnose pregnancy. (Image: Alexander Raths/iStock/Getty Images)

Step 4

Have your doctor schedule a colonoscopy as soon as possible if you have never had one before. A long, thin tube with a light and lens at the end is used to examine the inside of your rectum and colon. It is important to have this procedure at age 50 or before, especially if you have family history of cancer. The exam is awkward but colon cancer is one of the most common cancers, and the most preventable. A colonoscopy is one of the best ways to avoid the disease. Be sure to ask your doctor if there are factors in your medical history that make earlier screening right for you. Keep in mind that colon cancer usually doesn’t have any symptoms, but if you experience frequent cramping, unexplained weight loss and/or thin or bloody stools, talk to your doctor right away.

Colon cancer is one of the most common cancers and the most preventable.
Colon cancer is one of the most common cancers and the most preventable. (Image: Alexander Raths/iStock/Getty Images)

Step 5

Ask your doctor for a gallbladder scan if you are having pain in the upper right side of the stomach, especially after eating a meal. This test looks for blockages in the tubes (bile ducts) leading from the liver to the gallbladder and small intestine. During this exam, you will lie on a table as a radioactive tracer is injected into a vein in your arm. A screening camera placed above your abdomen will take pictures of the tracer as it goes through your liver, bile ducts, gallbladder and small intestine to help the doctor determine if your gallbladder is functioning normally and whether there are any blockages of the bile ducts. The test takes about 1 to 2 hours. Depending on the results of this exam, additional scans may be required.

Request a gallbladder scan.
Request a gallbladder scan. (Image: Alexander Raths/iStock/Getty Images)

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Tips & Warnings

  • If you are experiencing painful stomach cramps or other digestive problems and your doctor refuses to provide tests because he does not think they are necessary, change doctors. You have a right to receive the tests you feel are important to your well-being.

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