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When to See a Gastroenterologist

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:

  • Rectal bleeding
  • Leakage/underwear stains
  • Bowel movement urges that are hard to control
  • Diarrhea
  • Change in bowel habits
  • Pale-colored stools
  • Dark urine
  • Heartburn (acid reflux)
  • Abdominal pain or bloating
  • Excessive gas or belching
  • Esophageal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite or weight
  • Lethargy

There are also specific conditions to watch out for. See your physician if you have signs or symptoms of these conditions:

Heartburn/GERD

If you have frequent heartburn for six months or longer and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) aren’t helping, you may need treatment for gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). See your physician.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a group of disorders, including Crohn’s disease, that cause inflammation of the intestines. Symptoms include:

  • Severe or chronic abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Joint pain
  • Fever

If you experience these symptoms, see your physician.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Although irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) does not cause permanent damage or lead to serious disease, it can be uncomfortable. Symptoms include:

  • Cramping
  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation

If you experience these symptoms persistently, see your physician. IBS can often be managed with lifestyle changes.

Celiac Disease

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that makes your body unable to process gluten, which is found in wheat, rye and barley. Symptoms include:

  • Gas
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach pain
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability or depression
  • Weight loss
  • 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.

Learn more about colonoscopy.

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.

Learn more about our treatment options.

Contact Us
To learn more, for help finding a physician or to schedule an appointment, call 1.800.3.ADVOCATE (1.800.323.8622). You can also find a physician and request an appointment online.


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