Gastroenterologists are physicians who are trained to take care of diseases and conditions that affect the digestive system.
The digestive system spans from the mouth, down to the anus. Apart from the mouth and throat (which is reserved for dentists and ENT doctors respectively), gastroenterologists are the go-to doctors when it comes to the digestive system.
If you were wondering where the word ‘gastroenterologist’ came from, it’s actually derived from the Greek words ‘gastēr’ which means ‘stomach’, ‘enteron’ which means ‘intestines’ and ‘logia’ which means ‘reason’ or study’.
So, gastroenterology is the study of the gastrointestinal tract or the digestive system. In the past, gastroenterologists used to be called ‘gastrologists’ in some places. Nowadays, some people refer to them as 'gastrointestinal doctors', ‘gi doctors’ or ‘stomach doctors’
They are trained to understand the structure, function, passage of food, digestive process, removal of waste products and diseases that affect structures like the esophagus, stomach, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, small intestine, large intestine, rectum and anus.
How Trained Are Gastroenterologists?
Gastroenterologists are thoroughly trained to handle everything about digestion.
Usually, when medical students qualify as doctors, the medical journey would just be starting for them. They have to go through a year of internship, after which they go on to specialize in a particular field they choose.
In this case, gastroenterologists spend about 6-7 years after completing medical school to become certified and accepted into the colleges of gastroenterology.
The exact process of qualification varies from country to country and what the different medical colleges require.
So, you shouldn’t have any doubts about competence if you are seeing a gastroenterologist, They are very thoroughly trained and their practice is well regulated.
After becoming gastroenterologists, they can sometimes further specialize into subspecialties like hepatology, transplantation and nutrition.
Many doctors are also trained to know when to refer their patients to gastroenterologists where necessary as they are the ‘masters’ of the digestive system.
What Does A Gastroenterologist Do?
Gastroenterologists diagnose, treat and prevent diseases that involve the digestive system. Here’s a list of symptoms, diseases and conditions that are often referred to gastroenterologists:
- Difficult swallowing
- Food regurgitation
- Abdominal pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Hematemesis (vomiting blood)
- Jaundice (Yellowness of eyes and skin)
- Severe diarrhea
- Bloody stools
- Abnormal stool color (black, green or yellow)
- Liver diseases
- Gallbladder diseases
- Pancreatic diseases
- Peptic ulcer
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Unexplained weight loss
- Cancers of the digestive system
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease
- Lactose Intolerance
Gastroenterologists are also trained to carry out special procedures like endoscopy. Endoscopy is the use of flexible, narrow tubes that are equipped with video cameras to examine internal organs and structures. Using endoscopic techniques, gastroenterologists can diagnose several disorders, remove tumors and polyps, stop active bleeding and biopsy suspected cancerous tissues without operative surgery.
While gastroenterologists are not trained to perform surgeries, they work closely with general surgeons or colorectal surgeons whenever surgery would be the best option in the care of a patient.
How Can I Find A Gastroenterologist Near Me?
If you think you have a condition that may warrant a visit to a gastroenterologist, it’s advisable to first to a nearby health facility near you.
The reason is that you can’t tell if the condition you have might be an emergency or if a gastroenterologist is the best doctor for your particular case. Most hospitals and health facilities have a referral system in place, so if you walk into them, you might be made to see a general practitioner or a family doctor who would then assess you and refer you to see a gastroenterologist.
If there isn’t any gastroenterologist near you, the hospital can give you a referral to the closest one near your town or city.
Apart from these, there are online directories, where you can find them. However, most of these directories do not cover many cities outside the United States.
There are also online chat services where you can ask doctors questions when you need information about anything health-related. It’s not advisable to use these when you have an emergency, instead, please call the emergency services near you.
What Does A Gastroenterologist Do On First Visit?
Now, if you have been referred to see one, what should you expect? What does a gastroenterologist do on first visit?
Most times, gastroenterologists would see you in a consulting room where you will be asked questions. The purpose is to take a good history about your symptoms. Questions could be about when your symptoms started and if there are any complications related to your complaint.
After a history, you will be examined. The gastroenterologists may focus his or her examination on your abdomen and may perform a Digital Rectal Examination (the gentle insertion of a lubricated gloved finger into your rectum, through your anus). This test is often very useful in establishing a diagnosis.
A gastroenterologist may also require relevant blood tests, Ultrasound scans, X-rays, CT Scans, MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) or perform an endoscopy.
It is important to be open about your symptoms when visiting any doctor so that you can be properly diagnosed and appropriately treated. Also, remember to go along with previous lab results where necessary.
Gastroenterologists are doctors that diagnose, treat and prevent diseases that affect the digestive system. They spend about 6-7 years after medical school specializing and training to be able to handle conditions that affect the gastrointestinal tract. They are well-trained specialist who can provide expert and comprehensive care for patients with digestive tract diseases.
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