When Should You Consult a Gastroenterologist?

INTRODUCTION  

A gastroenterologist specializes in infirmities and complications involving the gastrointestinal tract—i.e., the intestines, stomach, esophagus, pancreas, liver, colon and rectum.  Their extensive training includes 5 additional years of education in gastroenterology and internal medicine after completing medical school. 

In addition to other specialized functions, gastroenterologists are highly trained in endoscopy, i.e., the utilization of flexible, narrow lighted tubes that feature a built-in video camera which is used to safely and painlessly look inside the GI tract. 

SYMPTOMS & CONDITIONS TO WATCH OUT FOR

In general, your primary care physician will refer you to a gastroenterologist if he/she deems it necessary.  It may be up to you, though, to bring up important symptoms to your doctor.  Some of the conditions, signs, symptoms, or complications that may justify a referral include:

  • Underwear stains/leakage
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Bowel habit changes
  • Diarrhea
  • Dark urine
  • Pale, discolored or dark stool
  • Abdominal bloating, discomfort or pain
  • Acid reflux (heartburn)
  • Excessive belching or gas
  • Esophageal pain
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of weight or appetite

Other specific conditions or ailments that should ideally be treated by a gastroenterologist include:

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease or GERD

Having frequent instances or episodes of heartburn that can’t be alleviated or controlled with antacids may need the more powerful effects of proton pump inhibitors (PPIs); if such, however, still can’t control your symptoms, then you may be suffering from GERD. 

Actually, PPIs are one of the tools used to treat GERD but in higher dosages than are found in the OTC varieties.  Also, there are some proton inhibitors which may only be available by prescription.  

Inflammatory Bowel Disease or IBD 

IBD is actually a group of ailments that include Crohn’s disease, which involve serious inflammation of the intestines.  Symptoms of IBD include: 

--Diarrhea

--Chronic and/or severe abdominal pain & discomfort

--Loss of appetite

--Unexplained weight loss

--Joint pain

--Rectal bleeding

--Fever

Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS

In general, IBS doesn’t involve/induce serious disease or lead to permanent damage—nevertheless, it can be painful, uncomfortable and stress-inducing (especially if you don’t know what you’re suffering from). Fortunately, this condition can usually be handled merely by introducing some lifestyle changes, mostly of a dietary nature.  

The symptoms to look for include: 

--Abdominal pain or discomfort

--Cramping

--Diarrhea

--Bloating

--Constipation

Celiac Disease

Celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder, can make it difficult or impossible for your body to digest gluten, something found in rye, wheat, and barley.  A blood test is used to determine whether you have this condition. The symptoms for this disorder include: 

--Diarrhea

--Gas

--Stomach pain

--Depression or irritability

--Fatigue

--Itchy rashes or blisters

--Weight loss 

COLON CANCER SCREENING 

One of the most important gastrointestinal services you can avail yourself of is that of cancer screening.  A colonoscopy is one effective and safe cancer screening tool gastroenterologists use to for the inspection of the full length of the colon and the rectum. 

This requires the use of a small camera enclosed within a flexible, long tube known as a colonoscope.  Gastroenterologists use this device to closely look inside the colon, remove polyps, perform biopsies, and, in some cases, diagnose colon/rectal disease.

Health organizations, including the American Cancer Association, recommend that every adult over the age of 49 be the subject of a colonoscopy approximately every 10 years—more often, if there is a genetic predisposition for cancer in the family, if the individual has received excessive exposure to known carcinogens or an exorbitantly high number of polyps are found through the first colonoscopy. 

There are other drug screening tests beyond colonoscopies.  These include sigmoidoscopy, fecal occult blood testing and regular examinations/consultations with a gastroenterologist.  You need to discuss the benefits and risks involved with each of these procedures.  

Your best weapon against cancer (other than prevention, such as by reducing the amount of liquor you consume annually) is early detection.

CONCLUSION 

If you are experiencing any symptoms, signs, conditions, or complications relating to the gastrointestinal system, then your best bet is to seek the services of a gastroenterologist.  A gastroenterologist specializes in the diagnosing and treatment of gastrointestinal ailments that range from peptic ulcers, to heartburn, to cancer of the colon.  

A gastroenterologist will see to it that you get all the necessary tests and exams necessary to diagnose your condition ASAP.  For your part, don’t put off getting any unusual symptoms, signs or conditions checked out by a physician. Any delays may negatively affect a prompt, accurate diagnosis; it may also make it necessary to resort to more invasive treatment options.  To avoid such, get regular checkups and follow to the letter your doctor’s advice and guidance. 

Copyright, 2018.  Fred Fletcher. All rights reserved. 

REFERENCES & RESOURCES 

https://www.med.unc.edu/gi/for-patients/clinical-services/general-gastroenterology-clinic/what-to-expect-and-frequently-asked-questions

https://www.healthgrades.com/conditions/6-reasons-to-see-a-gastroenterologist

https://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/24/health/esn-colonoscopy-expert.html

10/8/2018 4:00:00 AM
Fred Fletcher
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Fred Fletcher is a hard working Consumer Advocacy Health Reporter. Education: HT-CNA; DT-ATA; MS/PhD Post-Graduate Certificates/Certifications: • Project Management • Food Safety • HIPAA Compliance • Bio-statistical Analysis & Reporting • Regulatory Medical Writing • Life Science Programs Theses & Dis...
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Comments
For me one of the worst things out there is GERD. Many people have it but don't do anything about it. Without treatment all kinds of nasty things will happen including cancer.
Posted by Susan Blakely
I know that some doctors get upset when patients suggest that maybe they need the services of a specialist but when my patients took the time to do their own research as long as their requests were backed up by solid reasoning I didn't get upset. Unless I disagreed with their conclusions I went ahead and wrote up the referral. I viewed patient involvement as something positive that all doctors should embrace instead of seeing it as "playing doctor." Great article, Fred.
Posted by Dr. Dario Herrera
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