What is Gastroenterology?

Gastroenterology is an area of medicine focused on the digestive system and its diseases. The diseases are associated with the stomach, small intestine, colon, rectum, esophagus, pancreas, gallbladder, bile ducts and liver. It involves a wide and detailed understanding of the physiology of gastrointestinal organs. This also includes the movement of material through the stomach and intestine, the digestion and absorption of nutrients into the body, removal of waste, and function of the liver as a digestive organ.

Gastroenterology also involves other medical conditions such as hepatitis, gastroesophageal reflux, gallbladder, colon polyps, peptic ulcer, colon cancer, colitis, biliary tract disease, nutritional problems, irritable bowel syndrome and pancreas. Essentially, all normal activities and diseases of the digestive organs come under the study of gastroenterology.

Who Is A Gastroenterologist?

A gastroenterologist is a medical practitioner who specializes in diseases and conditions that affect the digestive organs and structures. These parts of the body includes esophagus or food pipe, stomach, small intestine, colon, rectum, pancreas, gallbladder, bile ducts and liver. To become a gastroenterologist, a doctor must complete 3 year internal medicine residency after medical school. After residency, he/she undertakes 2-3 years of specialized training called fellowship. Once a gastroenterologist becomes qualified, he/she works closely with other healthcare professionals to provide care to patients. A gastroenterologist may work with a hepatologist, radiologist and oncologist.

Diseases A Gastroenterologist Can Treat?

Gastroenterologists, also called Gastrointestinal (GI) doctors, treat problems and diseases of the digestive systems and are an expert in how the digestive system works. As experts, they can do more than just treating problems. They can also help both adults and children in learning about what they need to do to keep their system healthy.

Gastroenterologists diagnose and treat the diseases that occur in the gastrointestinal system. They are specialists that focus on the following areas.

  • The absorption of nutrients
  • The digestion or breakdown of food
  • The removal of waste from the body
  • The physiology or normal function of GI organs
  • The movement of food through the digestive tract or motility

Gastroenterologists treat all normal activities and disorders pertaining to the digestive system organs. They treat patients on an outpatient basis in a clinic or hospital setting.

Gastroenterologists focus on the specific areas of the gastrointestinal system, which includes the stomach, small and large intestine, liver, oesophagus, gallbladder and pancreas, etc. This also overlaps a little bit with the care provided by the general physicians, ENT surgeons, Upper GI surgeons and colorectal surgeons. Below are the most common symptoms and diseases that a gastroenterologist can treat:-

  • Piles
  • Ulcers
  • Hepatitis
  • Colon polyps
  • Colon cancer
  • Celiac disease
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Gastrointestinal cancer
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Polyps in the large intestine
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Bloody stool, cramping, bloating
  • Gastro-Oeosphageal acid reflux
  • Jaundice or yellowing of the skin
  • Pancreatitis aka Inflammation of the pancreas
  • Reflux esophagitis caused by gastroesophageal disease

A gastroenterologist may perform a number of tests and check-ups to diagnose gastrointestinal diseases. However, these procedures are not surgical. Usually, the treatment involves long-term medication. However, if surgery is required, then the gastroenterologist may refer you to a GI surgeon.

Endoscopy is one of the major procedures performed by the gastroenterologist. An endoscope is a long and thin flexible tube that has a light and video camera at the end of it. The doctor inserts an endoscope into the intestinal tract and sees the images of the inside of your body on a television screen. This helps the doctor in visualizing the inside of your tract and diagnose intestinal disorders effectively.

Below are the non-surgical procedures that may be performed to diagnose a gastrointestinal diseases:-

  • Capsule endoscope to examine the small intestine.
  • Colonoscopy is performed to detect colon polyps or colon cancer.
  • Liver biopsy is performed to assess liver inflammation and fibroids.
  • Sigmoidoscopy is performed to evaluate blood loss and bowel pain.
  • Endoscopic ultrasound is performed to examine the gastrointestinal tract.
  • Gastroscopy is performed to detect oesophageal, gastric and small intestinal disease.

When To See A Gastroenterologist

You can consult a gastroenterologist for various problems related to the digestive system. Chronic pain in the abdominal area, bloating gas, frequent diarrhea, heartburn, blood in the stool and chronic constipation are digestive disorders that may require evaluation by a gastroenterologist. Mild symptoms such as stomach upset, nausea and vomiting, etc can also indicate a larger problem. For example, a stomach upset may uncommonly indicate malbsorption disorders such as celiac or lactose intolerance.

By identifying these problems, the gastroenterologist can prevent the digestive system from future damage. You may observe extreme symptoms such as blood in your stool. Hence, it is advised to consult a gastroenterologist as soon as you notice any symptoms of digestive disorders. A gastroenterologist is highly adept in the diagnosis and treatment of a wide range GI disorders because of his/her training and knowledge. As a physician and proceduralist, a gastroenterologist can perform the diagnostic process and in many cases also embark on a successful treatment plan.

What Makes A Gastroenterologist Different?

A gastroenterologist completes a unique training program that provides him/her the ability to provide high quality and comprehensive care to patients suffering from gastrointestinal ailments. A gastroenterologist does several research that involves gastrointestinal endoscopic procedures as well as the interpretation of the results, and is considered an expert in the field. Study indicates that a gastroenterologist performs better colonoscopy examinations and comprehensive consultative services when compared to other physicians.

A Gastroenterologist detects polyps and cancer more accurately after performing colonoscopy. Also, when managed by trained gastroenterology specialists, the chances of complications during procedure are fewer and the patients need to stay just for a few days in the hospital for many gastrointestinal conditions. These are the abilities that provide more complete, accurate and thorough care for the patients with gastrointestinal conditions. These are the qualities that distinguish a gastroenterologist from other physicians that provide some similar services.