9 Things Your Gastroenterologist Needs to Know

9 Things Your Gastroenterologist Needs to Know
9 Things Your Gastroenterologist Needs to Know.

When a digestive issue strikes and you need expert assistance, mustering up the courage to schedule a first-time appointment with a gastroenterologist (GI) is no easy task. Many of my patients would rather discuss just about any other function in the body than what occurs between the time you eat and when you eliminate. However, knowing what is most important to share with your doctor may make the difference between leaving your office visit with a solution or not.

Below I have outlined the main things you should have in mind to discuss with your gastroenterologist.

Bowel Habits

This subject may be too taboo to discuss in the office breakroom, but it is the number one question your gastroenterologist will ask. In fact, bowel changes and concerns may even be the reason that prompted your visit. So get ready to spill the beans and don’t be shy. This is the one time that it is perfectly acceptable to describe how, when, and what comes out (or doesn’t come out) in all its gory details. In fact, using colorful adjectives or analogies to describe your observations will help your doctor better determine the possible underlying cause. If words do not do your problem justice, remember the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” and know that you are not the first patient to pull out their smartphone to share visual aids of your dilemma. We even use a tool called the Bristol Stool scale to help better describe what is going on.



It may go without saying that you should report all your medications when visiting a doctor, but this can be especially important when visiting your GI doctor.  Medications give your doctor an overall picture of your health, including what other symptoms or conditions you are experiencing.

While some of these may not seem obviously related to the symptom that prompted your visit, there may be a clue that helps your doctor pick up on an explanation to your GI woes. Also, do not only include prescription medications; be sure to include all of the over-the-counter medications you are taking too - including vitamins, minerals, and herbal supplements.  These are all important and should be mentioned.

Non-GI Symptoms or Conditions

Have you ever been asked to fill out a health history form with a super long list of conditions? It might be tempting to omit any vague or intermittent symptoms, like headaches or fatigue, thinking that they are not important or related to why you came in, but did you know that your GI system is now being called your second brain? Everything that happens in your gut can affect other areas of your body, and vice versa. So when you are having symptoms that warrant seeking a GI consult, you want to be sure to include everything else going on with your health. This gives your doctor the best chance of figuring out why you’re not feeling your best, as well as how to help you get back on track again.

Heartburn or GERD

Reporting all your medications and symptoms to your gastroenterologist is important, but if you have any symptoms of heartburn this is especially important to mention on your visit.

Even if this is not your primary complaint, be sure to mention if you are experiencing heartburn or acid reflux. This is a very common symptom that many people experience and find relief with over-the-counter medications without visiting a doctor. However, both acid reflux and the medications used to relieve it can be risk factors for developing other problems that your GI doctor can help prevent or manage, so be sure to speak up about this important symptom. 

Burping, Bloating, or Gas

Everyone has experienced burping, bloating, or gas at some point in their lives. When these occur on a frequent basis, you may blame them on your diet thinking that poor food choices led to your discomfort.

It doesn’t help that it is considered embarrassing to be caught passing wind, whether it’s coming up or down. So it might seem like these symptoms are insignificant or embarrassing to admit to your GI, but that is not true. All of these symptoms can be related to the presence of harmful bacteria in your gut, and there are treatments available to help. In addition, untreated overgrowth of bacteria can lead to a host of other GI and non-GI symptoms, so it is important to address the issue head on when possible.  

Hormonal Issues

It might not seem important to tell your gastroenterologist that you have struggled with infertility or take thyroid medications, but any symptoms involving your hormones can affect your GI health. For example, women who have struggled with infertility may also have an undetected gluten sensitivity, and those who have thyroid issues may have more problems with constipation. So regardless of the issue, conditions triggered by hormonal abnormalities are especially important to mention to your GI.

Joint or Spine Pain

Again, it may seem irrelevant to mention to your GI doctor that your joints ache or that you are experiencing back or neck symptoms, but these can also point to reasons that your GI health may be thrown out of whack.  Many times chronic joint pain may be a sign of an undetected autoimmune condition, which could also explain your GI symptoms. Likewise, back or neck pain may signal nerve damage which can also explain some digestive symptoms.


If hemorrhoids are not the reason you came to see a GI but you know they are there, it is worth fessing up and sharing. Over time, hemorrhoids can grow and become more problematic, possibly requiring surgery. But there are now simple and painless in-office treatments to eliminate hemorrhoids, which are very effective in resolving the problem and the risk for future issues. 


This is arguably one of the most difficult symptoms to discuss, but should not be kept silent. If you are experiencing bowel accidents or incontinence, please let your doctor know. It might be embarrassing to admit, but your doctor understands that this is a sensitive topic. Also, keep in mind that your gastroenterologist isn’t thinking about how gross or humiliating the experience was for you, but will be busy figuring out the cause and a solution to help you fix this problem.

Discussing your health history and reporting concerns to a gastroenterologist might seem intimidating, especially when the topic is considered taboo. But remember, GI doctors see and hear it all every day, and not much can shock them. Being honest about all the symptoms you are experiencing can help your doctor see the big picture and ultimately find an answer to your problem, so that you can be back to feeling normal again. 

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