Gastroenterology focuses on the health of the digestive system or the gastrointestinal tract. The gastrointestinal system is responsible for the digestion of food, absorption of nutrients and removal of waste from the body.
Gastroenterologists diagnose and treat diseases that occur in the gastrointestinal system.
These are specialists that focus on:
- The physiology or normal function of gastrointestinal organs
- The motility or movement of food through the digestive tract
- The digestion or breakdown of food
- The absorption of nutrients
- The removal of waste from the body
All normal activity and disorders pertaining to the digestive organs are treated by the gastroenterologist. They care for patients in an outpatient / clinic or hospital setting.
What Do They Treat?
Gastroenterologists focus on specific areas of the GI system. This includes the oesophagus, stomach, small and large intestine, liver, gallbladder, and pancreas, etc. This overlaps a little with the care provided by general physicians, Ear Nose & Throat surgeons, Upper GI surgeons, and colorectal surgeons.
The following are common diseases and symptoms treated by a gastroenterologist:
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Gastro-Oeosphageal Acid reflux
- Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Polyps in the large intestine
- Gastrointestinal cancer
- Reflux esophagitis (caused by gastroesophageal disease)
- Bloody stool, cramping, bloating
What Do They Do?
A gastroenterologist may perform a number of procedures to diagnose gastrointestinal diseases. However, these procedures are not surgical.
Treatment usually involves short-term or long-term medication. Gastroenterologists may, however, refer the patient to a gastrointestinal surgeon if surgery is required.
One of the major procedures performed by the gastroenterologist is endoscopy. It involves the use of narrow flexible tubes with a built-in video camera that can be inserted into the intestinal tract.
This helps the doctor visualise the inside of the tract and effectively diagnose intestinal disorders.
The following non-surgical procedures may be performed to diagnose a gastrointestinal disease:
- Colonoscopies (to detect colon cancer/colon polyps)
- Gastroscopies (to detect oesophageal, gastric and small intestinal disease)
- Liver biopsies (to assess liver inflammation and fibrosis)
- Endoscopic ultrasounds (to examine the gastrointestinal tract)
- Sigmoidoscopies (to evaluate blood loss/bowel pain)
- Capsule endoscopies (to examine the small intestine)
When to See a Gastroenterologist
A gastroenterologist can be consulted if you experience digestive problems. Symptoms usually include chronic pain in the abdominal area. Bloating, gas and diarrhea are other common digestive disorders that may require evaluation by a gastroenterologist.
Mild symptoms such as nausea, stomach upset, etc. may also indicate a larger problem. For instance, a stomach upset may uncommonly indicate malabsorption disorders such as celiac disease or lactose intolerance.
By identifying these disorders, future damage to the digestive system can be prevented. Some patients may also observe extreme symptoms such as blood in their stools. It is advisable to consult a gastroenterologist for any new symptoms of digestive disorders.
The training and knowledge of a gastroenterologist make them highly adept in the diagnosis and treatment of a wide range of gastrointestinal disorders. As physicians and proceduralists, they are able to complete the diagnostic process and in many cases also embark on a successful treatment plan.
Thus, a gastroenterologist may be trusted with the complete and accurate treatment of digestive diseases.