Deadpool actor Ryan Reynolds and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s Rob McElhenney released a video of themselves getting colonoscopies to raise colon cancer awareness—and for the sake of good ol’ competition.Reynolds and McElhenney have a lot in common: They’re co-chairmen of a Welsh football club and they both turned 45 last year, the age at which you’re supposed to start getting regular colonoscopies to screen for colorectal cancer, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This all ties back to a funny bet the pair agreed on: “Ryan bet that I would not learn how to speak Welsh,” McElhenney says (speaking in Welsh) in the video. “He was so sure, he said he’d publicly broadcast his colonoscopy if I could do it.” Well, Reynolds held up his end of the bargain and let a camera crew trail him into a hospital for his first colonoscopy.During a colonoscopy, a doctor (typically a gastroenterologist) inserts a thin, flexible tube inside the rectum to check the colon for polyps. (Don’t worry, most people are put under for this.) A colorectal polyp is a small clump of cells that can develop on the lining of the colon; these can be harmless, but some can turn into cancer over time, according to the Mayo Clinic. That’s why it’s so crucial to remove polyps if they’re found early during a screening. In the video, Reynolds’ doctor explained to him that the “stunningly effective” procedure would take no more than 30 minutes.After the procedure, Reynolds—who no doubt felt the effects of the sedation—attempted to eat a graham cracker while his doctor explained that he found a small polyp on the right side of the colon. “This was potentially life-saving for you,” the doctor said. “I’m not being overly dramatic. This is exactly why you do this. You had no symptoms… Nobody would know they had this.”The doctor explained that getting regular colonoscopies can prevent colon cancer from progressing into a later, harder-to-treat stage, should it be found during the procedure. “You are interrupting the natural history of a disease process that could have ended up developing into cancer and causing all sorts of problems,” he said. “That’s why people need to do this. This saves lives, pure and simple.”Next up, McElhenney gets a colonoscopy. He joked that if the doctors found nothing, his colon would be deemed “cleaner” than Reynolds’. “I figure I can’t go wrong in terms of comparing myself to Ryan,” he said. McElhenney’s doctor found three polyps. “They were not a big deal, but certainly a good thing that we found them and removed them,” his doctor explained.Currently, routine colonoscopies are recommended every 10 years once you turn 45. While the disease is considered to be relatively rare, colon cancer is on the rise in young adults, per the National Cancer Institute (NCI). In fact, nearly 18,000 people under the age of 50 will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer this year in the US. In 2020, Black Panther actor Chadwick Boseman shed light on the disease after he died of colon cancer at 43 years old, which sparked a larger conversation about racial disparities in colon cancer prevention and treatment.
If you have heartburn here and there, you probably don’t have a huge issue on your hands. Most people can manage the discomfort with over-the-counter antacids, which help neutralize stomach acid, after a particularly triggering meal (thanks, greasy pizza!). But “heartburn that is so severe it keeps you up at night for more than one to two weeks warrants investigation with a gastroenterologist, Dr. Shukla says.Constant heartburn is a sign of uncontrolled acid reflux, or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)—a condition that impacts roughly 20% of people in the U.S., per the NIDDK. Getting a proper diagnosis is crucial if you deal with heartburn or other symptoms—like difficulty swallowing, regurgitation, or unexplained coughing—more than twice a week, as untreated reflux can lead to complications over time, like inflammation or narrowing of the esophagus, which can possibly cause ulcers or problems with swallowing, respectively.To complicate things further, heartburn can feel similar to cardiac chest pain, which can signal a heart attack, Dr. Chen points out. “If you are unsure, please call your doctor for advice on next steps,” she says. If you feel other possible signs of a heart attack—like unexplained shortness of breath, pain in your back, neck, jaw, or either arm, or sudden sweating—it’s best to seek immediate medical attention.Back to top4. You’re having an oddly difficult time swallowing.You may not think of issues with your throat as a “digestive” symptom, but think about it: Your entire digestion process starts in your mouth!Having a sore throat that makes it uncomfortable to swallow is very different from actually feeling like you can’t swallow well. Dysphagia is the medical name for this phenomenon, and it goes beyond not feeling like you can get food down easily. You may cough a lot after eating, hear gurgling sounds from your throat while eating, clear your throat a lot, chew very slowly, or feel chest discomfort after swallowing, per the U.S. National Library of Medicine.“Any type of swallowing difficulty should prompt a visit to the doctor,” Dr. Chen says. (If you know the issue is caused by an object stuck in your esophagus or you’re having trouble swallowing even saliva, she recommends heading to the emergency room.)With that said, if you’re having a difficult time swallowing, there could be an underlying issue to address. As we mentioned, it could be caused by uncontrolled acid reflux, but dysphagia can also be rooted in stress or anxiety, a brain or nerve condition, or direct issues with your tongue, throat, or esophagus, so it’s not something to ignore if it’s interfering with your day-to-day life. In some cases, trouble swallowing can point to esophageal cancer, but Dr. Shukla says this is a less likely explanation.Back to top5. Your stomach pain is borderline agonizing.Severe abdominal pain is different from the stomach ache you experience after eating too much. Instead, you may be experiencing intense cramping that won’t let up or sharp, stabbing pain that forces you to lay down. “If the abdominal pain is severe and persists, it needs to be evaluated,” Dr. Chen says.If you’re really uncomfortable but it’s not so bad that it’s disrupting your daily life, make an appointment with your primary care doctor if you have one, Dr. Chen says. But if you’re doubled over in pain and can’t imagine going on with your day in that state, it’s best to head to the emergency room.