When to Call the Doctor About Your IBD Symptoms

For those who have a chronic condition such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), there needs to be a close relationship with physicians and other caregivers. But, chronic conditions are just that, chronic. The health of a chronically ill person will have its ups and downs, and sometimes it's not clear how "down" one needs to be before calling a doctor.

Which signs and symptoms, other than those that happen on a regular basis, should prompt a to call the gastroenterologist? In addition to the suggestions below, call a physician when there are any new symptoms that may be connected to your IBD or if it's clear that things are generally worsening.

Patient talking to doctor
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Ask About New Medications

One reason to call a doctor is if another physician or a dentist prescribes new medication and there are questions about it. For some people, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) and antibiotics may set off a flare-up of IBD symptoms in some people. Other drugs may interact with those that are being taken to manage Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis. Specialists such as dentists, dermatologists, podiatrists, and even primary care physicians may not be knowledgeable enough about IBD to be aware that the prescription they ordered could be harmful. A quick double-check of a medication regimen with the gastroenterologist is a good idea. There are always alternatives that can be considered.

Spiking a Fever

Many people with IBD are used to occasionally feeling feverish--the body is reacting to the inflammation in the digestive tract. This spiking of fevers can even result in daytime "hot flashes" or night sweats. However, a high or prolonged fever (101 °F [38.3 °C]) may indicate serious inflammation or another condition. Don't let a fever linger for more than a few days before getting it checked out.

Losing Weight

Many people with IBD tend to be on the thin side, and losing weight when already thin can be serious. When not trying to lose weight and it just seems to come off on its own, that's a red flag that should be discussed with a physician. People with IBD in a flare-up need more calories, not fewer, and a change in the eating plan might need to be discussed. 

Excessive Bleeding

During an IBD flare-up, most people are being used to seeing a little blood in the toilet (especially in the case of ulcerative colitis). If there is new bleeding or it's happening during what should be a time of remission, contact a doctor to treat the flare-up. However, flaring or not, if seeing a significant amount of blood in the stool should prompt a call to a gastroenterologist immediately. If the bleeding does not stop, there is faintness or dizziness, or the doctor is unavailable, call 911 or the local emergency department immediately.

Dizziness or a Rapid Heartbeat

Most people with IBD are used to having the occasional unusual symptom, and sometimes it's chalked up to be another part of the disease. However, passing out and/or a rapid heartbeat that won't slow down should be reported to a gastroenterologist right away. If these signs are very troublesome or are accompanied by other serious symptoms like loss of feeling in an arm or a leg, call 911.

Signs of Dehydration

Once dehydration from diarrhea and vomiting is present, it can be difficult to get rehydrated by simply drinking water. A physician can offer suggestions on how to can get rehydrated at home or if it's necessary to get some fluids in an IV. The symptoms of dehydration include:

  • Cramps in the abdomen or leg
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Decreased tears
  • Decreased urine output
  • Dry skin
  • Dry or sticky mouth
  • Excessive loss of fluid through vomiting, diarrhea, or sweating
  • Fatigue
  • Less frequent urination
  • Light-headedness
  • Thirst

Severe Abdominal Pain

People with IBD are often told that they may experience a certain amount of pain from IBD, and most are familiar with the "typical" level of pain. If you experience severe abdominal pain or pain that is accompanied by repeated vomiting and/or excessive bloating, contact your doctor. If the pain is sudden, severe, and accompanied by repeated vomiting and the absence of bowel movements (which are symptoms of bowel obstruction), call 911 or contact a local emergency department.

A Note From Verywell

Knowing when to call the doctor about new or persistent IBD symptoms can be challenging. Many IBD patients tend to "tough it out" when things are going wrong, and in some cases that might not be the best thing to do. When in doubt, put in a call to the doctor and get some peace of mind about anything that seems scary or different from the normal IBD signs and symptoms.

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