What Is a Gastroenterologist? A gastroenterologist is a physician who has specialized training and experience in managing diseases of the gastrointestinal tract – the stomach, intestines, esophagus, liver, pancreas, colon and rectum. The training involves more than five years of additional education in internal medicine and gastroenterology following medical school. This includes training in endoscopy – the use of narrow, flexible lighted tubes with built-in video cameras used to see the inside of the GI tract.
Why Should You Visit a Gastroenterologist? The unique training and experience of gastroenterologists allows them to provide high-quality, comprehensive care for patients with GI conditions. Studies have shown that gastroenterologists perform higher quality colonoscopies and provide more comprehensive care for gastrointestinal conditions than other physicians. This translates to more accurate detection of polyps and cancer, fewer complications from procedures and less time in the hospital for patients treated by GI specialists.
When Should You See a Gastroenterologist? Patients are usually referred to gastroenterologist by their primary care physician. Your physician may recommend you see a gastroenterologist if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms of GI disorders:
Bowel movement urges that are hard to control
Change in bowel habits
Heartburn (acid reflux)
Abdominal pain or bloating
Excessive gas or belching
Loss of appetite or weight
There are also specific conditions to watch out for. See your physician if you have signs or symptoms of these conditions:
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that makes your body unable to process gluten, which is found in wheat, rye and barley. Symptoms include:
Irritability or depression
Itchy rashes and blisters
If you think you may have celiac disease, see your physician. A blood test can help determine whether you have this condition.
Colon Cancer Screening A colonoscopy is a safe and effective method of inspecting the full length of the colon and rectum to screen for colon cancer. Using a small camera attached to a long, flexible tube called a colonoscope, physicians can see inside the colon, perform biopsies, remove colon polyps and diagnose colon and rectal conditions.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends a colonoscopy every 10 years for adults beginning at age 50 and continuing until age 75. Depending on your family history, race or other risk factors, you may need earlier or more regular screening. Talk with your physician about what is best for you.
In addition to colonoscopy, there are other tests that screen for colon cancer, including fecal occult blood testing and sigmoidoscopy. Talk with your physician about the risks and benefits of each of these procedures to learn what is best for you.
We Can Help The highly trained and experienced gastroenterologists at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center’s Digestive Health Institute specialize in diagnosing and treating all forms of gastrointestinal diseases and disorders, from heartburn to peptic ulcers to colon cancer. We’re here to help you maintain good gastrointestinal health.