What is a Gastroenterologist?
Table of Contents
A gastroenterologist is a physician who has specific training in diagnosing and treating conditions and diseases of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. This may include diseases and disorders that affect the the biliary system (liver, pancreas, gallbladder, and bile ducts), as well as the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, and large intestine (colon). Gastroenterology is a subspecialty of internal medicine.
What does a Gastroenterologist do?
Gastroenterology is primarily a specialty in assessing the structure of the digestive tract, and gastroenterologists are experts in diseases of the digestive tract (not syndromes or symptoms).
Most people will initially make an appointment with their primary physician when suffering from a problem of the digestive tract, such as indigestion, diarrhea, constipation, or rectal bleeding, especially if these symptoms start to interfere with their normal daily activities. Their physician may run some tests, and if no answers are found, the patient will typically be referred to a gastroenterologist.
Gastroenterologists specialize in the evaluation, diagnosis, management, and treatment of the following symptoms and conditions:
- Abdominal pain
- Bleeding in the digestive tract
- Colorectal cancer, stomach cancer, pancreatic cancer, liver cancer
- Constipation and diarrhea
- Difficulty swallowing
- Diverticular disease
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Crohn's disease
- Gallbladder disease
- GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease)
- Hiatal hernias
- Liver disease
- Celiac disease
- Lactose intolerance
- Stomach upset, nausea, vomiting
A gastroenterologist may perform specific diagnostic tests, either in a hospital or an outpatient clinic, such as:
A colonoscopy - a test used to examine the colon or the large intestine and the rectum for abnormalities. It involves using a colonscope, which is a flexible tube with a camera at the end, allowing the specialist a detailed view of the inside of the colon. Colonoscopies are used to diagnose colon cancer and colon polyps. Often, the gastroenterologist will remove suspicious polyps and tissues during the procedure.
An endoscopy - uses an endoscope, which is a small flexible tube with an attached camera. Unlike a colonscope, which is passed through the rectum, the gastroenterologist will pass an endoscope through the mouth in order to see the upper digestive system. The specialist will use this test to diagnose problems of the stomach, gallbladder, esophagus, and other upper gastrointestinal organs, and will use the results of the test to come up with an effective treatment plan.
Gastroenterologists may also do other imaging work of the GI tract, such as an ultrasound, CT scan, MRI, and an X-ray, and will perform studies that assess the motility of the digestive tract. They may also use a 'pill camera', where a capsule the size and shape of a pill containing a tiny camera is swallowed by the patient. The camera takes pictures of the inside of the gastrointestinal tract.
Sometimes, a gastrointestinal abnormality may only be corrected through surgery. In these cases, the gastroenterologist will typically refer a patient to a GI surgeon to perform the procedure. After the surgery has been completed, the patient may return to the gastroenterologist to see if ongoing treatment will be needed.
It is important to note that gastroenterologists do not have training in nutrition or most reactions to foods. And though the digestive tract is the single most concentrated area of immune activity in the body, gastroenterologists have no special training in immunology.
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