Gastroenterologist (GI Doctor)

A GI Doctor Is A Specialist That Treats Digestive Disease

Palpating the Abdomen
A gastroenterologist is a doctor who is concerned with digestion, and may perform a physical exam on the abdomen to help locate the cause of discomfort. Ryan McVay/Digital Vision/Getty Images

What Is A Gastroenterologist?

A gastroenterologist is a type of physician that has a special interest in diseases of the digestive tract and is trained to treat those diseases. To become specialized in the treatment and management of conditions in the digestive system, a GI doctor must undergo training in both internal medicine as well as more advanced training in the potential problems of the digestive tract.

Gastroenterologists serve a vital role in the health and well being of people with digestive disease. For people with  inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and other serious conditions, the relationship with a gastroenterologist is an important and personal one. Upon a first visit to a gastroenterologist, many people may feel nervous and embarrassed. Discussing bowel movements and other personal issues can be a barrier. But it is important to be as honest as possible in order to receive the best care.

For people with IBD, the gastroenterologist is going to be the doctor that gives the most care, prescribes the most medications, and offers the most assistance. There will be other important members of a healthcare team involved too, and a gastroenterologist can help in putting together the right team. 

Do I Need A Gastroenterologist?

People living with digestive disease should see a digestive specialist.

The years of training and seeing and treating similar patients offers invaluable insight into digestive disease. Digestive diseases tend to be complicated and far-reaching, which is why a specialist is so important. Gastroenterologists who specialize in IBD often work in IBD centers, where patients can benefit from the latest information, guidelines, and research being done on IBD.

What Training Do Gastroenterologists Have?

A gastroenterologist must first complete a 4-year undergraduate college degree followed by another 4 years of medical school. At that time, the physician receives a medical degree, and could seek licensing. The next step to becoming a gastroenterologist is a 3-year residency in internal medicine. At that time a physician may elect to continue on to a specialty in gastroenterology.

A gastroenterology fellowship is 2 to 3 years during which a physician learns to evaluate and manage digestive diseases. This training encompasses conditions that may be seen in an office or in a hospital setting. The physicians are also given instructions in how to perform diagnostic endoscopy procedures, such as colonoscopy. In all, a gastroenterologist has undergone a minimum of 13 years of formal classroom education and practical training before becoming a certified gastroenterologist.

A gastroenterologist may further specialize, and take an interest in studying and treating only certain diseases or conditions. For instance, some physicians may specialize in IBD and see primarily patients who have IBD. Others may choose to specialize in liver diseases or colorectal cancer.

 This can offer patients an even higher level of care, because their gastroenterologist will have a very high level of knowledge related to their particular disease.

What Conditions Do Gastroenterologists Treat?

A gastroenterologist that is certified by the American Board of Colon and Rectal Surgery must have proficiency in diagnosing and treating the following conditions:

Conditions

  • Anorectal conditions
    • Hemorrhoids
    • Colonic neoplasms
    • Cancer
    • Polyps
  • Diverticulosis
  • Esophageal reflux
  • Gastritis
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
  • Hepatitis
  • Hiatal Hernia
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
    • Ulcerative colitis
    • Crohn's disease
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Ulcers

A gastroenterologist must also be proficient in treating and managing the following signs and symptoms:

Signs and Symptoms

  • Abdominal pain
  • Abnormal x-ray findings
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Heartburn
  • Indigestion
  • Jaundice
  • Liver Disease
  • Malabsorption
  • Nausea
  • Post-operative colon tests
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Vomiting

And in performing the following tests:

  • Colon screening exams
  • Esophageal and intestinal dilation
  • Hemostasis
  • Polypectomy

How To Locate A Gastroenterologist

When a person is experiencing symptoms in the digestive tract, it may be time to consult a gastroenterologist. A primary care physician or an internist can help with a referral to a gastroenterologist, but they can also be found through the following sources:

 

Source:

American College of Gastroenterology. "What is a Gastroenterologist?" American College of Gastroenterology 2006. 20 Jan 2014.

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