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What is a Gastroenterologist? All You Need to Know About One

by Aziza · November 10, 2020

Gastroenterologists are doctors who specialize in treating conditions related to the digestive system. Your general physician might recommend you see a gastroenterologist if you experience discomfort in your digestive system.
This definitive guide gives you all the information about what gastroenterology is all about, when and why should you see a gastroenterologist. You can learn about the training these doctors get and how they can treat you. Check out this guide and learn how it can help you. Following are the main topics:

  • What is Gastroenterology?
  • Why Should You See A Gastroenterologist?
  • What Procedures Does a Gastroenterologist Use for Diagnosis?
  • Training and Area of Expertise of a Gastroenterologist
  • Preventive Care for Cancer

1.

What is Gastroenterology?

What is Gastroenterology?

The etymology of the word suggests that gastroenterology is a field of medicine that studies stomach and intestines (gastro: relating to stomach, entero: relating to intestines, logy: study). In reality, it is more than just stomach and intestine.
It includes the whole digestive system including esophagus, stomach, intestines, rectum, gall bladder, pancreas, bile ducts and liver. A gastroenterologist should have detailed understanding of the functioning of digestive system, food intake till expulsion of waste, liver and pancreas etc.

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Your mouth is also part of your digestive system, but it is out of scope of any gastroenterologist. A dental specialist is trained to deal with any condition of mouth or teeth. Any condition or discomfort relating to these body parts come under a gastroenterologist’s area of specialty.
Some people confuse a gastroenterologist with doctors specializing in other organs of the body like hepatologist (liver specialist) or colon surgeon. It is important to know the distinction. Your general physician is there to help you if you need in such cases.

2.

Who is A Gastroenterologist? Why Should You See Him?

If you experience problems like pain in stomach, heartburn, diarrhea, trouble swallowing, vomiting, constipation, etc., your doctor might suggest that you see a gastroenterologist because these issues relate to gastro-intestinal tract.
If you have problems in following parts of your body, a gastroenterologist is your best choice.

  • Esophagus
  • Stomach
  • Small Intestine
  • Colon
  • Liver
  • Pancreas
  • Bile Duct
  • Rectum
  • White Section
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Many conditions of gastroenterology also have a connection with other body parts. One condition can have adverse effects on other body parts. For example, stress can cause digestive issues which are not at all related to malfunctioning of stomach.
If you experience abnormal bowel movements, abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, heartburn, difficulty swallowing etc. you should go and see your gastroenterologist.

In some cases, doctors need to refer people to medical professionals with specialist knowledge.

Having a proper reference to a gastroenterologist is needed when your regular doctor suspects that many of your symptoms due to an upset digestive system may be due to such a condition. These symptoms consist of:

*you feel difficulty swallowing

*there is a strong pang of stomach pain which you can’t bear

*you are feeling nauseated and vomiting often

*having continuous heartburn

*diarrhea is frequent

*constipation isn’t getting better despite taking medication

*jaundice is common

In these cases, your gastroenterologist will be able to understand and form a strong opinion on the kind of treatment and medication plan to put you on.

3.

What Procedures Does a Gastroenterologist Use for Diagnosis?

The patients with gastrointestinal ailments are treated with best care and specialized knowledge by gastroenterologist. Your doctor can use blood and stool tests, X-ray, CT Scan, to diagnose your ailment.
They also get training in performing endoscopy. Endoscopy is basically about getting to see the inside of intestinal tract. A few narrow tubes with light and cameras mounted on its head are inserted inside.

Your gastroenterologist is likely able to perform endoscopy colonoscopy, gastroscopy, double balloon enteroscopy, liver biopsy and other such procedures along with a thorough medical examination. These specialized doctors are more likely to perform better procedures of endoscopy, as compared to other medical professionals.
Some gastroenterologists are trained to perform advanced endoscopic procedures like polypectomy, hemostasis etc. A gastroenterologist is not a surgeon by education. They can collaborate with surgeons to be able to provide necessary treatments for their patients.
Your gastroenterologist might recommend you that you see specialized doctors depending on your case. For example, if you have problems with your liver, he might suggest that you see a hepatologist instead of a gastroenterologist.

4.

Training and Education of a Gastroenterologist:

In order to become a gastroenterologist, you have to complete a college degree in medicine. Then you work as a resident and then a fellow for additional specialized education for almost six years. During this rigorous training program, you get to learn from experts in the field and special trainings.
In addition to seeing patients and practicing your training, you learn processes like endoscopy, enteroscopy, gastroscopy etc. A gastroenterologist is expected to understand and suggest a treatment based on his/her knowledge from this field of internal medicine.

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Conditions Treated by Gastroenterologist

A gastroenterologist is trained to treat many conditions relating to gastrointestinal tract that include:

  • Hepatitis
  • Liver, pancreatic, colorectal cancer
  • Celiac disease
  • Crohn disease
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Colon polyps
  • Hemorrhoids
  • Inflammatory bowel disease and others.

If you experience abdominal pain, irregularities in digestion, blood in your stool or difficulty in swallowing, you should set a meeting with your gastroenterologist soon. If your symptoms are unbearable, make sure to go to emergency department.

What procedures do gastroenterologists perform?

All of the procedures performed are based on digestive complications. These nonsurgical procedures consist of:

*Endoscopy

In this procedure, a camera is attached with a thin and slender tube called an endoscope and with it, to look inside the body.

The device is inserted down the throat through the mouth. It then takes images of the esophagus. This treatment is usually considered when a person experiences symptoms like:

persistent heartburn

constant nausea and vomiting

bleeding sometimes

problems with trying to swallow

stomach pain which wouldn’t subside

there is unexplained weight loss

Endoscopic ultrasounds are conducted to look at the upper and lower GI tract. It also looks at the working of all the other internal organs

*Colonscopies are conducted to determine and detect colon cancer and colon polyps.

*The procedureendoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography is used to determine if you have any gallstones, tumors, or scar tissues in the bile duct area.

In a polypectomy, a gastroenterologist removes one or more polyps from the lining of the bowel. These are basically noncancerous forms which develop in the colon. They are also very common.

*Sigmoidoscopies is procedure used to detect and determine if you are facing any blood loss or if you are facing any constant pain in the bowel

*Liver biopsies is a common procedure which assess inflammation and fibrosis

* To examine the small intestine, the procedure capsule endoscopies is conducted

*Double balloon enteroscopies is another procedure used to examine the small intestine region

5.

Preventive Care for Cancer

If you are 50 years or more, you should regularly get yourself checked. People, both men and women, above 50 are likely to develop conditions of cancer. If you have someone in your family with colorectal polyps or colon cancer, you should be more careful in getting regular screening processes.
It takes about 10 to 15 years for an abnormal polyp to turn into cancer. Therefore, it is important to get screening procedure to find those polyps and get them removed. Even if you find cancerous cell in early stages, it is easier to treat.
There are several types of tests that can be administered as screening tests. Be sure to meet with your physician and ask his/her recommendation.
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While talking about screening tests for preventive care, you should also keep in mind that certain lifestyle changes can lower your chances of getting colorectal cancer. Those who have a history of colorectal cancer in their families should take extra care of their diet and maintain healthy lifestyle.
Adopting a diet comprising of high contents of vegetables and fruits and less content of red meat can be a preventive measure. Increasing physical activity, losing weight is also a preventive measure for colorectal cancer.

What to Expect at Your Appointment

It is always better to be well-prepared in advance hence we are presenting you with the details on what you can expect at your first appointment.

While a person may only go to a gastroenterologist when their regular doctor refers them to, this post is allowing you to already hold some background knowledge on how their diagnosis process works.

The first thing you will be asked to do is to take certain tests before your appointment. Your primary care doctor will inform you of these tests before actually going to the specialist.

These specific tests like endoscopy, colonoscopy is to determine the cause and extent of which you are facing your symptoms. You might even be required to get an X-ray done of your digestive system so the doctors can get a better picture of your condition.

In such cases where further test and procedures will need to be done, you will get a 101 consultation with your specialist to prepare you well for the procedure.

Taking Care of Your Health is Important…

Your digestive system is instrumental in maintaining your health. It is not to say that other bodily systems are not important but to drive the point home that neglecting health of your digestive tract can translate into other problems.

A gastroenterologist is one of the most important medical professionals who aim to specialize in diseases which pertain to the digestive system and digestive tract.

When your regular doctor determines that you might be having symptoms which pertain to serious complications of the digestive system, you are referred to a gastroenterologist.

There are a number of gut-related conditions which are diagnosed and treated by your specialist in the field.

Some of the leading procedures of the digestive system like endoscopies and colonoscopies are carried by them.

It is important to consult a gastroenterologist as soon as possible when the need arises. The sooner you have these problems diagnosed, the better for your health and it might even save your life.

This guide detailed all you need to know about problems with digestive tract and what symptoms should you be looking out for. Take good care of your body; it has no replacement.

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