5 Signs You Should See a Gastroenterologist
When you hear the word gastroenterology, thoughts of minor digestive issues like stomach aches may come to mind. But the field is far more complex, and the job of a gastroenterologist is extremely challenging.
In basic terms, a gastroenterologist is a physician who identifies and remedies illnesses occurring within the digestive tract. But this highly trained medical professional’s duties often extend well beyond this simple definition.
First, gastroenterology is a medical specialty. Gastroenterologists are experts in their field.
Getting this expertise requires a significant amount of education. Gastroenterologists first attend four years of medical school to earn a medical doctor degree. This is then followed by participation in a medical residency internship, typically lasting three years. Many add a two-to-three-year fellowship in gastroenterology.
During the fellowship, aspiring specialists receive vigorous instruction from experienced, often world-renowned gastroenterologists. This education covers a wide array of topics such as:
- Understanding how gastrointestinal components function individually and as a network.
- Diagnosing and treating various associated illnesses.
- Studying essential digestive system functions like food breakdown, nutrient absorption, and waste byproduct elimination.
- Training on the proper usage of diagnostic tests and equipment.
Additionally, a significant focus is placed on patient care administered in both office and hospital settings.
The Tools of the Trade
The gastrointestinal system is much more than just your stomach. This sophisticated network also includes the esophagus, the large intestine (colon), small intestine, liver, gall bladder, and pancreas.
Since these organs are situated deep inside your body, examining such them often needs the use of advanced procedures employing technologically-advanced devices.
Specific procedures are designed to investigate either the upper or lower gastrointestinal tracts. They vary in terms of invasiveness and complexity. Common procedures include:
Endoscopy is one of the most utilized diagnostic procedures a gastroenterologist performs. This examination is done with an endoscope, which is an elongated tube equipped with a tiny camera. This device is placed down your throat and helps your gastroenterologist carefully and thoroughly check out various systemic components.
This device measures the pressure and movement (flow) inside your esophagus and gastric organs. Gastroenterologists perform this test using a long, thin tube placed in your nose and passed through your esophagus and into your stomach.
Once inside, the manometer measures the pressure inside the organs when they contract. These findings are then transmitted to a machine that records, interprets, and charts numerical readings measuring how intense or weak the associated pressure is.
Gastroenterologists place a sigmoidoscope, which is a thick tube with a camera, into the sigmoid region (lower region) of your colon. Many colonic diseases like cancer and inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD, can be revealed during this procedure.
After complete sedation, physicians insert a colonoscope into the rectum and examine the colon for any abnormalities.
Biopsies are typically performed when cancer is suspected. Small pieces of tissue of your digestive tract are extracted and sent to a laboratory for study.
Fecal Occult Blood Test
In a fecal occult blood test, gastroenterologists take a sample of your stool. The sample is then sent to a lab and examined for small amounts of blood that might not be noticeable or hidden within the sample.
Five Signs You Should See a Gastroenterologist
A consultation with a gastroenterologist is recommended if you experience one or more of the following five signs:
1. Weight Loss
Unintentional weight loss can be symptomatic of many illnesses that can involve many different bodily networks. Potentially serious gastrointestinal ailments, such as cancer of the colon, pancreas, or stomach, are often accompanied by a pronounced decrease in body weight.
An unexplained drop in weight can also indicate the presence of illnesses like Crohn’s and celiac disease. Both issues interfere with adequate nutrient absorption, which often makes maintaining a healthy weight challenging.
2. Waste Elimination Extremes
Many gastroenterologists will tell you that you should have bowel movements ranging from once every two or three days to three times per day. The process should be comfortable and not cause straining.
Unfortunately, you may encounter bouts of constipation – extended periods where you cannot go. At the other extreme is diarrhea, with three or more loose or watery stools per day.
Constipation inhibits your ability to rid the body of waste products. When you have diarrhea, you eliminate significant water and nutrient concentrations. These increase your risk of developing serious dehydration.
Repeated incidents of either symptom need immediate attention. They can be a sign of cancer, IBD, or other ailments.
3. Bleeding Along the Digestive Tract
Bleeding is never normal. Sometimes, bright red blood appears in your stool or is vomited or coughed up through your esophagus. At other times, you might spit up black byproducts that look like coffee grinds. Or your fecal matter has a blackish hue.
Any of the preceding usually means you are bleeding somewhere inside your digestive network. With severe bleeding, this is a medical emergency. Gradual blood loss can also prove dangerous and possibly fatal. Regardless, bleeding may suggest the presence of a malignancy, IBD, or stomach ulcers.
4. Systemic Nutrient Depletion
Low concentrations of essential nutrients, especially iron, can indicate some type of absorption disease occurring within your gastrointestinal tract. Such conditions could precipitate problems like weight loss, weakness, and illness because the body is not receiving the nutrition necessary to function at an optimal level.
5. Swallowing Difficulties
Difficulty swallowing is a serious issue that inhibits your ability to digest food properly. Sometimes, the condition is caused by minor, easily correctible causes. But it might also result from significant illnesses like stomach or esophageal cancer or acid reflux disease.
Will a Referral be Needed to See A Gastroenterologist?
Considering gastroenterology is a medical specialty, you may need a referral from your primary care physician or your insurance provider to schedule an appointment.
Qualities Good Gastroenterologists Possess
When choosing a gastroenterologist, look for professionals demonstrating the following qualities:
- A favorable reputation from both past and current patients, in addition to fellow physicians.
- Good communication skills.
- A calming, peaceful demeanor.
Above all, your gastroenterologist should be someone you feel comfortable working and associating with.
What to Expect During Your First Visit
Your doctor will review your medical history during your initial visit, ask many questions, and perform a physical examination.
These initial findings might help them reach an initial conclusion. From there, you may need to undergo further testing before a firm diagnosis is reached.
If you have been formally diagnosed with a specific gastrointestinal condition or believe you might have one, the team of professionals at Gastroenterology of Greater Orlando looks forward to working with you.
Our practice began more than 15 years ago and has emerged as one of the leading gastroenterology practices in central Florida. We perform a host of diagnostic procedures using state-of-the-art equipment in a friendly, comfortable, and inviting atmosphere where patient care is always a top priority. Contact us today!