Faces of Healthcare: What’s a Gastroenterologist?

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Rasel Ali

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Faces of Healthcare: What’s a Gastroenterologist?
« on: August 29, 2019, 04:58:29 PM »
Gastroenterology is an area of medicine that focuses on the health of the digestive system or the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Gastroenterologists can treat everything from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) to hepatitis C. Here’s a look at what these specialists do and when you should consider seeing one.

What is a gastroenterologist?
These specialists primarily diagnose and treat GI diseases in both men and women.

They perform endoscopic procedures, in which they use specialized instruments to view the GI tract and make a diagnosis. They don’t perform surgery. In some cases, they may work closely with a GI surgeon. They primarily work in a clinic or hospital settings.

The GI system:

  • digests and moves food
    absorbs nutrients
    removes waste from your body
Gastroenterologists can treat any part of this system.

Although the GI system includes the mouth, these specialists generally don’t provide care or services here. Instead, dentists and dental specialists focus on the health of the oral cavity.

Other parts of the GI system include the:

  • pharynx
    small intestine
    large intestine
    salivary glands
Proctologists also treat diseases of the rectum and anus.

What is gastroenterology?
Gastroenterology is a specialized area of medicine that focuses on the GI tract. Some gastroenterologists treat general diseases of the GI. Others focus on a particular type of gastroenterology.

Some possible areas of emphasis are:

  • hepatology, which focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of diseases of the liver, gallbladder, biliary tree, and pancreas
    pancreatic disease
    inflammatory bowel disease, or chronic inflammation of your digestive tract
    gastrointestinal cancer
    endoscopic surveillance
    reflux esophagitis, which is commonly due to gastroesophageal reflux disease

Education and training requirements

To become a gastroenterologist, you must earn a four-year college degree. Afterward, you have to complete four years of medical school. After graduating from medical school, you need to complete a three-year training program, called a residency, in internal medicine. During this time, you work alongside experienced gastroenterologists and receive professional mentorship.

After you complete your residency, you must complete a two- or three-year fellowship to receive more specialized training in this field. This includes training in endoscopy, which is a nonsurgical procedure doctor use to examine the GI tract.

Once you’ve completed your training, you must pass a specialty certification exam for gastroenterologists. The American Board of Internal Medicine certifies you upon successful completion of the exam.

What conditions do gastroenterologists treat?
These specialists treat a number of conditions affecting the GI system. This can include:

  • acid reflux
    hepatitis C
    polyps, or growths, which typically occur in the large intestine
    jaundice, or yellowing of the skin
    bloody stool
    pancreatitis, or a rare disease-causing inflammation of the pancreas
    colon cancer

What procedures do gastroenterologists perform?
These specialists perform a range of nonsurgical procedures. This can include:

  • endoscopic ultrasounds to examine the upper and lower GI tract, as well as other internal organs
    colonoscopies to detect colon cancer or colon polyps
    endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography to identify gallstones, tumors, or scar tissue in the bile duct area
    sigmoidoscopies to evaluate blood loss or pain in the bowel
    liver biopsies to assess inflammation and fibrosis
    capsule endoscopies to examine the small intestine
    double-balloon enteroscopy to examine the small intestine
When should you see a gastroenterologist?
Your primary care doctor may refer you to this specialist if you:

  • have unexplained blood in your stool
    have unexplained difficulty swallowing
    are experiencing abdominal pain
If you’re over the age of 50, you may also want to meet with a gastroenterologist for preventive care. Men and women over the age of 50 have an increased risk of colon cancer.

If you’re in this age group, you should get screened regularly. If you have a relative with colon cancer, you should ask your doctor about when to start getting screenings.
Rasel Ali