Commonly Misdiagnosed Digestive Problems

Digestive problems tend to disguise themselves as other conditions, and as a result, it can be difficult to get an accurate diagnosis. But your health depends on it.

Celiac Disease

Perhaps the most often misdiagnosed chronic digestive problem is celiac disease, which affects as many as 1 in 133 people in the U.S. Despite the high incidence of celiac disease, the disease often goes undiagnosed or is misdiagnosed and, as a consequence, left untreated. The reason is, it's easy for sufferers—and even doctors—to blame the gastrointestinal problems associated with celiac disease, including stomachaches, gas, bloating, chronic diarrhea,  and constipation, on other ailments such as food allergies, irritable bowel syndrome, gastric ulcers, Crohn's disease, parasite infections, or anemia. Getting an accurate diagnosis of celiac disease is crucial because the problem is caused by a hypersensitivity to gluten proteins found in wheat, rye, barely, and possibly oat products. Left untreated, the malabsorption of nutrients can set off a constellation of maladies from skin rashes, chronic fatigue, osteoporosis to reproductive disorders.


The only solution for celiac disease is the complete elimination of wheat, rye, barely and possibly oat grains from your diet. Sometimes people with celiac disease have no gastrointestinal symptoms at all and may instead experience:

  • Joint pain
  • Mouth sores
  • Irritability or depression
  • Tingling in the legs and feet (neuropathy)

Before trying a gluten-free diet on your own, talk with your doctor about your symptoms. She may prescribe tests or procedures to accurately diagnose celiac disease, including blood tests or a tissue biopsy of your small intestine to examine under a microscope.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Another often-misdiagnosed problem is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a common disorder that affects the colon. The signs and symptoms of IBS can vary widely from person to person and resemble those of more serious ailments, including ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, and colon cancer. Some of the most common IBS symptoms include:

  • Stomach pain or cramping
  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Mucus in the stool

Although as many as 1 in 5 Americans have the above symptoms, fewer than half seek medical attention. If you have symptoms of IBS or if you've experienced a persistent change in your bowel habits, be sure to see your doctor to rule out a more serious problem.

Viral or bacterial infections can also cause stomach symptoms that are similar to chronic gastrointestinal problems such as acid reflux and IBS. To get an accurate diagnosis of your problem and find relief, make an appointment to meet with your doctor if you have:

  • Persistent pain
  • Changes in bowel movements
  • Loss of appetite or weight (of more than five to ten pounds)