The 7 Signs of an Unhealthy Intestine

Some signs that indicate that you have an unhealthy intestine can be vomiting, constipation, blood in the stool, or diarrhea.
The 7 Signs of an Unhealthy Intestine
Samuel Antonio Sánchez Amador

Written and verified by el biólogo Samuel Antonio Sánchez Amador.

Last update: 01 April, 2023

Gastrointestinal problems are common and an unhealthy intestine is complex. Diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) have an annual incidence of 20.2 patients per 100,000 people per year in North America, according to studies. These values have drastically increased with respect to the data reported 50 years ago in the West and other regions.

Stress, an unhealthy diet, little exercise, and many other factors both intrinsic to the individual and environmental can favor the appearance of diseases or intestinal imbalances. Cancers, unfortunately, are also increasingly frequent, as colorectal cancer is the third most common type after breast and lung cancer.

Bacteria and other pathogens such as complex viruses or parasites aren’t far behind, as the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 1 in 10 people suffer from a foodborne illness (FTA) at any given time.

All these data come to convey a clear idea: Intestinal diseases are common, and we all experience some throughout our lives. Therefore, today we’ll show you 7 signs that indicate that you have an unhealthy intestine.

Context of intestinal diseases

Most of us associate gastrointestinal illness with transient diarrhea and discomfort, but the truth is that certain disorders go much further than that. The World Health Organization (WHO) provides us with a series of enlightening data on the subject:

  • Diarrheal diseases are the second most common cause of death in children under 5 years of age. This translates to 525,000 deaths annually.
  • In low-income countries, intestinal infections are the second most common cause of death overall, second only to respiratory infections.
  • In the region of the Americas, 77 million people fall ill with this clinical picture annually, and more than 9,000 end up dying.
  • Diarrhea is represented in 95% of foodborne diseases (ETAs).

From bacterial infections to cancer, including gallstones, pancreatitis, hepatitis, gastritis, strictures, anal fissures, stomach ulcers, and many other problems, gastric diseases encompass a series of diverse and complex etiological conditions.

Diarrhea as a gastrointestinal disease.
Diarrhea is common throughout the world, even causing death in low-income areas.

7 signs of an unhealthy intestine

Depending on the underlying disease, the patient will experience various clinical signs and symptoms over time. Here are 7 signs that may indicate that you have an unhealthy intestine.

1. Diarrhea

Diarrhea refers to pasty or liquid stools that happen three or more times a day. In infants, this interval is reduced to 12 hours. Diarrhea is also considered if you make at least one daily stool with pus, mucus, or blood.

We’ll present some interesting data regarding diarrhea, collected by epidemiological studies :

  • Although it may not seem like it, only 10 to 20% of infectious diarrhea is caused by bacteria. Among them, enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia coli and Campylobacter jejuni are usually the most common.
  • Noroviruses and rotaviruses are also the cause of diarrheal symptoms. Rotavirus is the cause behind diarrhea 28% of the time, which translates into more than 193,000 deaths globally.
  • Persistent or severe diarrhea is that which lasts 14 days or more.

In general, diarrhea of infectious origin is usually accompanied by fever, cramps, or pain in the abdomen, a feeling of urgency when it comes to evacuating, and loss of bowel control. All of these are clear signs of a diseased intestine, at least temporarily.

In addition, this very common clinical sign can also be due to non-infectious diseases. In this case, some underlying causes may be the intake of certain antibiotics, intolerance to some foods, or irritable bowel disease (IBD).

2. Constipation

According to the United States National Library of Medicine, a person is considered constipated when they have 3 or fewer bowel movements a week. In general, the stools tend to appear hard and dry, a fact that causes sporadic pain in the patient.

As indicated by gastrointestinal portals, constipation can occur in up to 28% of the general population. It’s a very common sign that can be caused by obstructions in the colon or rectum, nerve problems, muscle dysfunction, and hormonal conditions.

In general, for a clinical picture to be considered constipation, the following factors must be met:

  • Having less than 3 bowel movements per week
  • Lumpy or hard stools
  • Making a considerable effort to evacuate
  • Feeling as if the rectum can’t be completely emptied or as if it’s blocked
  • Needing help to empty the rectum, such as squeezing the abdomen

3. Blood in the stool

Rectal bleeding is evidenced when the patient can perceive traces of blood on the toilet paper after cleaning, in the toilet water, or in the feces themselves. There are two colors that stools can present:

  1. Black stools indicate that bleeding is occurring in the upper part of the gastrointestinal tract, as the blood has been digested along the path of the stool. Peptic ulcers are the most common cause.
  2. Reddish stools indicate that bleeding is occurring in the colon and rectum, as the blood hasn’t been digested prior to bowel movement. It can happen as a result of something as simple as hemorrhoids or much more dangerous clinical pictures.

Unfortunately, heavy colorectal bleeding is a typical symptom of colon cancer. The Foundation tells us that this variant is the third most diagnosed type of cancer in both men and women in the United States. This translates, in an estimated way, into more than 140,000 new cases per year in this region alone.

Fortunately, when this type of cancer is detected early, it usually has a solution. For this reason, when faced with bleeding in the stool, a visit to the doctor is urgently required.

4. Vomiting

Vomiting, also called emesis, is defined as a rapid and violent expulsion of stomach contents through the mouth. It’s a natural evolutionary mechanism that occurs in living beings when we ingest a foreign body or a toxic agent.

Vomiting is almost always accompanied by nausea, which is a sensation indicating the proximity of emesis. Some of the causes are the following:

  • Allergies or intolerances to certain foods
  • Stomach or intestinal infections
  • Migraines
  • Pregnancy
  • Type 1 and type 2 diabetes
  • Fatty liver
  • Nervous and brain disorders

5. Difficulty swallowing

Difficulty swallowing, or dysphagia, is also a sign of an unhealthy intestine, although it’s a much less common presentation compared with vomiting, nausea, and constipation.

In this case, as the MSDmanuals portal indicates, the difficulty swallowing may be due to various esophageal motility disorders, such as esophageal cancer, achalasia (affected peristalsis), esophageal spasm, gastric reflux, and other problems in the beginning of the intestinal tract. Although it’s not the intestine itself that’s affected, the repercussion can spread.

Unfortunately, dysphagia is often related to neurological problems, such as stroke, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. For all these reasons, difficulty swallowing can explain diseases of a diverse nature.

6. Heartburn

Heartburn is defined as a burning sensation just below or behind the breastbone. We all experience heartburn at some point in life, but when it occurs more than twice a week, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) may be suspected.

A diseased intestine is related to the stomach insofar as the digestive tract functions as a unit. Excessive acidity can overcome stomach anatomical barriers and reach the mucosa of the duodenum and produce ulcers there.

A woman with heartburn drinking a glass of water.
The stomach is related to the intestine because a valve is shared. Acidity can reach the intestinal mucosa.

7. Bloating

In last place, we have bloating, that is, a condition in which the abdomen feels full and tight. This sign can go beyond a simple sensation experienced by the patient themself. Some of the causes of this sign are the following:

  • Air swallowing or aerophagia, generally caused by stress, anxiety, or physiological deviations of the nasal septum
  • Constipation
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBD)
  • Lactose intolerance
  • Bacterial growth or other microorganisms in the small intestine

Signs of an unhealthy intestine that you need to watch out for

As you’ve seen in these paragraphs, we’ve presented you with an extensive tour of the possible signs that may indicate that your intestine is sick. Even so, despite being associated with gastrointestinal disorders, many can also be related to neurological or other dysfunctions.

A general rule of thumb when it comes to this issue is that when intestinal discomfort persists for more than two weeks, it’s time to go to the family doctor. Preliminary auscultations and blood or urine tests will be carried out. Based on them, the professional will decide if the patient requires superficial changes in certain habits or more extensive treatments.

Este texto se ofrece únicamente con propósitos informativos y no reemplaza la consulta con un profesional. Ante dudas, consulta a tu especialista.