If you experience severe or ongoing digestive problems, your healthcare provider may refer you to a specialized provider called a gastroenterologist. Sometimes called gastrointestinal or GI doctors, these health care providers are experts in the digestive system.
Before going to see a gastroenterologist, it's important to understand what conditions these providers treat, the procedures they perform, and what to expect from your first appointment.
Gastroenterologists are specialists who focus on diagnosing and treating conditions that affect the gastrointestinal tract, or GI tract.
The GI tract includes the organs you use to swallow, digest, absorb, and empty the food and drink you consume.That means gastroenterologists can help manage conditions that affect:
- Small intestine
Gastroenterologists can also help monitor conditions in other organs involved in the digestive process, including:
- bile ducts
Gastroenterologists may perform imaging tests, analyze blood and stool test results, and ask about symptoms to make a diagnosis. They can then prescribe medications, order follow-up tests, and monitor symptoms to manage any diagnosed conditions.
When should I see a gastroenterologist?
There are several reasons why you might need to see a gastroenterologist. You may need to get an opinion on the symptoms you're experiencing, undergo diagnostic or preventative tests, or keep up with follow-up for a condition you've already been diagnosed with.
Unless you are already an established patient of a gastroenterologist for a chronic condition, your primary care provider can tell you when to see a gastroenterologist based on your symptoms, any current conditions, and your medical history.
To check persistent symptoms
Sometimes occasional digestive problems, like a bout of food poisoning, can be managed on your own or with the help of a primary care doctor. Persistent or certain symptoms may require the expertise of a gastroenterologist.
Common symptoms that require a referral to a gastroenterologist include:
- Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
- Persistent nausea and vomiting
- stomach and/or abdominal pain
- Signs of jaundice, including yellowing of the skin and eyes.
- Loss or sudden weight gain
- Blood in the stool
The gastroenterologist can determine what is causing the symptoms.
To control gastrointestinal conditions
Gastroenterologists can provide long-term treatment for conditions that affect each part of the gastrointestinal tract or organs related to the digestive process.
Common conditions of the esophagus, which is the tube that connects the throat and stomach, include:
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD):A condition that develops when stomach acids flood the esophagus
- Barrett's esophagus:A change in the lining of the lower portions of the esophagus.
- esophagitis:A persistent inflammation and irritation of the esophagus.
- Hernia hiatal:A condition that occurs when the stomach pushes through the diaphragm, the thin layer of tissue that separates the chest from the abdomen.
Gastroenterologists treat conditions, such as a food allergy or bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine, that affect the health of the stomach and intestines. Other common intestinal conditions that gastroenterologists can treat are:
- Gastritis:An inflammation of the stomach lining.
- diverticulitis:An inflammation of small pouches in the intestines.
- Celiac Disease:An immune reaction to eating gluten (wheat)
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS):Bloating and swelling in the stomach or intestines
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD):Crohn's diseaseoulcerative colitis, two conditions marked by inflammation in the GI tract
- Appendicitis:An infection of the appendix
- Hemorrhoids:Swollen veins in the anus or rectum
- Certain types of cancer:These include cancers of the colon, rectum, intestines, or stomach.
Gastroenterologists can also monitor conditions that affect the liver, including:
- Hepatitis:An inflammation of the liver, which can be caused by a viral infection or damage due to drug or alcohol use.
- Fatty liver disease:Excess fat stored in the liver
- Cirrhosis:Late-stage liver disease caused by hepatitis, excessive alcohol use, or fatty liver disease
Gastroenterologists can diagnose and treat conditions that affect the gallbladder, such as:
- gallstones:Hardened collections of bile within the gallbladder
- Cholecystitis:An inflammation of the gallbladder often due to gallstones
- Pancreatitis:An irritation and inflammation of the pancreas due to the use of alcohol or gallstones
For routine exams
Many people visit a gastroenterologist to screen for colorectal cancer, which is cancer that develops in the colon (large intestine) or rectum.
During a screening test, the gastroenterologist will examine the colon and rectum for polyps (extra growths of tissue that are usually not cancer but can become cancer) and other abnormal growths.
There are several tests to detect colorectal cancer, including different imaging tests, such as a sigmoidoscopy orcolonoscopy.
There is also a virtual colonoscopy, in which X-ray equipment is used to take pictures of the entire colon and rectum from outside the body. The gastroenterologist will review these images to determine if a standard colonoscopy is needed.
A gastroenterologist may also order a stool test, for which you would send a stool (poop) sample to the gastroenterologist, and they will test small amounts of blood for possible polyps.
Getting regular screenings can help prevent colorectal cancer from developing or help find cancer early so it's easier to treat. In both a sigmoidoscopy and a colonoscopy, the gastroenterologist can remove polyps during the exam, which can prevent them from becoming cancerous.
The recommendation for colorectal cancer screening is to start at age 45 and continue to be screened every five to 10 years, depending on the test. If you have any risk factors, such as IBD or a family history of colorectal cancer, you may need to start getting tested early and more often.
Because they have experience with a wide range of conditions, gastroenterologists perform many types of procedures for diagnosis, monitoring, treatment, and screening. The most common of these procedures are:
Esophageal endoscopy:In this procedure, often called an upper endoscopy, gastroenterologists insert a thin, flexible, lighted tube with a camera, or endoscope, down the throat and esophagus, accessing the stomach and small intestine. This allows them to visually examine these areas.
Sigmoidoscopia:The sigmoid is a portion of the lower part of your colon. When a gastroenterologist needs to look at and evaluate the sigmoid, he will insert a type of endoscopic device called a sigmoidoscope through the rectum into the colon. This procedure can be done with a flexible tube (flexible sigmoidoscopy) or a rigid tube (rigid sigmoidoscopy).
Colonoscopy:For the test, the doctor will insert an endoscopic device into the rectum to examine the rectum and entire colon for signs of inflammation, cancer, or other growths.
Polypectomy:A minimally invasive alternative to abdominal surgery, polypectomy is the removal of polyps (abnormal growths) from the colon performed with the aid of a sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy. Polyps can be removed with forceps or burned with a surgical device called a trap.
Dilatation:Performed in either the esophagus (esophageal dilation) or intestines (intestinal dilation), this procedure slightly stretches the area to relieve symptoms of inflammation and narrowing within the tube.
hemostasis:Using endoscopy, this procedure treats internal bleeding, often in the upper gastrointestinal tract, by injection of a special substance, application of heat, or a hemoclip (a type of clamp worn temporarily).
Endoscopic biliary examination:This endoscopic procedure allows gastroenterologists to view and evaluate the biliary tract, which is the liver, gallbladder, and bile ducts. It is also known as endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP).
Endoscopic mucosal resection (EMR):This endoscopic procedure is used to remove cancerous, precancerous, or other abnormal tissue from the esophagus, stomach, intestines, or rectum.
Stent placement:Gastroenterologists can use endoscopic procedures to place hollow tubes called stents, which can help expand or open up a blocked section of intestine. Stenting can help treat blockages in the digestive tract.
Endoscopic ultrasound (EUS):Also known as echoendoscopy, EUS combines endoscopy with ultrasound imaging to assess the health of the gastrointestinal tract.
Tips for your first date
Going to see a specialist like a gastroenterologist for the first time can be different from a routine visit to a general health care provider. Here's what to expect at your first visit and some ways to prepare for your appointment.
what to expect
The first appointment with a gastroenterologist usually lasts between 30 minutes and an hour. The doctor will ask about your medical status and history and discuss your symptoms with you.
In addition, the doctor will perform a physical exam. This test may involve:
- visual observation:The doctor will look at your abdomen to check for abnormal growths or other problems.
- Auscultation:This is a diagnostic procedure in which the doctor uses a stethoscope to listen to the sounds made by the intestines or abdomen.
- Palpation:The gastroenterologist will feel around all four quadrants of your abdomen to check for any abnormal growths, pain, or tenderness in any area. You may be asked to take a deep breath or cough during the test.
- Rectal exam:The doctor may need to insert a finger into the rectum to look for abnormal growths, masses, or signs of inflammation.
If more tests are needed, such as a colonoscopy, the provider will ask you to schedule a different time to do that procedure. Before any follow-up procedure, the office will give you guidance on how to prepare.
As with any type of appointment, it is important to be prepared if you have been referred to a gastroenterologist. Having certain information with you can help the doctor make a diagnosis.
Know your medical history
Many medical offices will ask you to upload your medical information to an online portal prior to your appointment, but you may also be asked to discuss this in person during your appointment. Come prepared to discuss any conditions you currently have or have had in the past, as well as any previous treatments or procedures you have received.
The doctor will also ask what medications you are taking if you have allergies and a family history of the disease. The more the provider knows about your medical condition and history, the better they can identify and treat your condition.
Keep track of your symptoms
It is important that your gastroenterologist has an idea of how you are feeling and what your symptoms are. Before your appointment, keep a record of your symptoms, including any over-the-counter medications or home methods you have taken to control your symptoms. It may also help to keep track of your diet. Bring these notes with you to your appointment so you can discuss them with your doctor.
Send the results of any tests in advance
The gastroenterologist will likely want to review the results of any relevant medical tests or evaluations, such as imaging, stool tests, and blood tests. This includes any test results related to chronic conditions you may have, such as diabetes or IBD. You can usually have your primary care provider or testing center send them directly to the gastroenterologist's office.
Prepare a list of questions
During your appointment, it will be important to learn as much as you can about your condition and possible treatments. You can also ask about your GI doctor's experience. Here are possible questions to ask your GI doctor:
- What may be causing my symptoms?
- What tests should I take? How can I prepare for them?
- How serious is my condition?
- What are my treatment options?
- How many times have you performed this procedure?
- How is the recovery from my treatment?
- What will follow-up or additional care be like?
- What kind of dietary adjustments or lifestyle changes should I make?
- How long have you been practicing gastroenterology?
Education and Training Requirements for Gastroenterologists
As with all medical specialists, gastroenterologists receive specific training after medical school. After completing medical school, gastroenterologists spend an additional five to six years of gastroenterology training before they can practice independently.
The training of gastroenterologists is as follows:
All physicians must graduate from medical school before entering their specific field or specialty. In medical school, students will study advanced biomedical sciences and clinical skills and may begin working with patients through clinical rotations. These programs typically last four years, with graduates receiving a doctor of medicine (MD) or doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO) degree upon completion.
Residency in Internal Medicine
The next step is a residency in internal medicine. Residency is typically a rigorous three-year program in which residents (graduate medical students) work and learn under the supervision of specialists and gain a foundation of medical practice.
All medical specialists, including gastroenterologists, must complete a residency program.
After residency, a gastroenterologist receives focused training in their field through a gastroenterology fellowship program. A scholarship is a continuous specialized training that can last from two to three years. Under the direction of board-certified GI specialists, medical students learn to diagnose and care for people with gastroenterological diseases.
During their fellowship, gastroenterologists receive training in procedures such as endoscopy and polypectomy.
National organizations such as the American College of Gastroenterology and the American Gastroenterological Association set guidelines for the training of gastroenterologists.
Upon completion of their fellowships, gastroenterologists are deemed "board eligible" and take a certification exam administered by the American Board of Internal Medicine. After passing the exam, the gastroenterologist is considered "board certified."
Following their residency and fellowships, gastroenterologists may choose to receive additional training in specific subspecialties of the field. For example, after an additional one-year program, gastroenterologists may specialize in hepatology, which focuses on conditions that affect the liver. Other subspecialties include:
- interventional endoscopy
- gastrointestinal cancer
- pancreatic disease
- functional bowel disease
- Reflux esophagitis (inflammation of the esophagus, the tube that leads from the throat to the stomach)
Gastroenterologists are highly trained specialists in the gastrointestinal tract, as well as other organs involved in the digestive process. Gastroenterologists can diagnose and manage diseases that affect the esophagus, stomach, upper and lower intestines, gallbladder, liver, and rectum. When it's time to be screened for colon cancer, you'll need to see a gastroenterologist. You may also be referred to a gastroenterologist if you experience certain symptoms. During this initial appointment, be prepared to discuss your symptoms and medical history. The gastroenterologist will decide the next best step, which may be imaging tests. If you are diagnosed with a GI condition, you will likely need to return to the gastroenterologist for a follow-up checkup.
A gastroenterologist is a specialist with expertise in the disorders and diseases that affect the digestive system — which includes the gastrointestinal tract (esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, rectum and anus) as well as the pancreas, liver, bile ducts and gallbladder.Why would a person see a gastroenterologist? ›
You should see a gastroenterologist if you have any symptoms of a digestive health disorder or if you need colon cancer screening. Often, seeing a gastroenterologist leads to more accurate detection of polyps and cancer, fewer complications from procedures and less time spent in the hospital.How does a gastroenterologist look at your stomach? ›
A gastroscopy checks your food pipe, stomach and upper part of the small intestine (duodenum) for abnormalities. This minimally invasive procedure uses a thin, flexible camera, which is inserted through your mouth into your stomach and duodenum, to diagnose problems and take tissue samples.
The symptoms of a Gastroenterology disease vary but they include: Abdominal pain and discomfort. Bleeding in the digestive tract. Constipation and Diarrhoea.What are the most common signs and symptoms of gastrointestinal disorders? ›
- Blood in stool.
It's normal to have occasional reflux or heartburn, especially after a heavy meal or when lying down after eating. But if you begin to experience reflux persistently or chronically, it is important to seek evaluation by a gastroenterologist—a doctor who specializes in the digestive tract.What does a gastroenterologist do on first visit? ›
At your first appointment, your gastroenterologist will speak with you about your medical history, symptoms, and any recent treatments you've had. Depending on your age, they may recommend certain preventative treatments, such as a colonoscopy, which can help prevent colorectal cancer.Which disease might you have if you were seeing a gastroenterologist? ›
The most common conditions, diseases, and disorders diagnosed and treated by gastroenterologists include: Cancer (Gastrointestinal, Liver, Pancreatic, Colorectal) Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Celiac Disease.What are the 5 diseases of the digestive system? ›
- Gastrointestinal Reflux Disease (GERD) Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) occurs when stomach acid frequently flows back into your esophagus. ...
- Celiac Disease. ...
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) ...
- Ulcerative Colitis. ...
- Crohn's Disease.
Your stomach must be empty. Before the test, you should have nothing to eat or drink after midnight, except a small amount (6 ounces) of clear liquids up to three hours before the test. Consult with your doctor regarding any changes in your medications on the day of the test.
- A change in normal bowel habits.
- Blood on or in the stool that is either bright or dark.
- Unusual abdominal or gas pains.
- Very narrow stool.
- A feeling that the bowel has not emptied completely after passing stool.
- Unexplained weight loss.
- Anemia (low blood count).
Standard imaging tests for gastric conditions include upper gastrointestinal series (UGI), ultrasounds, MRIs, CT scans and X-rays. For an even clearer picture of the gastrointestinal tract, a barium swallow or barium enema may be used in conjunction with an X-ray.What is the most common gastrointestinal disease? ›
IBS is the most common disease diagnosed by gastroenterologists and one of the most common disorders seen by primary care physicians.What are the serious gastrointestinal problems? ›
Some common problems include heartburn, cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, and lactose intolerance. Other digestive diseases include: Gallstones, cholecystitis, and cholangitis. Rectal problems, such as anal fissure, hemorrhoids, proctitis, and rectal prolapse.How does a gastroenterologist check your liver? ›
Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP).
This is a procedure that helps diagnose and treat problems in the liver, gallbladder, bile ducts, and pancreas. It uses X-rays and a long, flexible, lighted tube (endoscope). The scope is put into your mouth and throat.
Specific red flag symptoms that warrant immediate referral include problems swallowing, palpable lumps in the stomach and significant unintended weight loss over the last six to 12 months.What foods to avoid if you have gastrointestinal problems? ›
- Spoiled or unwashed foods. Bacteria from old or raw foods can cause food poisoning, cramps, or other issues if it gets into your system. ...
- Spicy and hot foods. Foods with a bit of a kick can trigger problems like heartburn. ...
- Dairy products. ...
- Acidic foods. ...
- Gastritis. Gastritis is when the stomach lining becomes inflamed or swollen. ...
- Gastroenteritis. Gastroenteritis is an inflammation of both the stomach and small bowel. ...
- Gastroparesis. ...
- Non-Ulcer Dyspepsia. ...
- Peptic Ulcers. ...
- Stomach (Gastric) Cancer.
An upper gastrointestinal endoscopy involves inserting a flexible, lighted tube called an endoscope down your throat and into your esophagus. A tiny camera on the end of the endoscope lets your doctor examine your esophagus, stomach and the beginning of your small intestine, called the duodenum.How do you get rid of mucus stuck in your throat from acid reflux? ›
Instead Of Coughing, Try Forcefully Breathing Out
So instead of coughing, try to breathe out of your nose forcefully. That will not only get rid of the mucus that has built up in your throat but will also give you the relieving sensation of an unblocked throat and nose.
A gastrointestinal (GI) doctor (gastroenterologist) uses an endoscope. The scope is a narrow, flexible tube with a light and small video camera. Through the scope, your doctor can view the inside lining of your: Esophagus: The tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach.What is the difference between gastrologist and gastroenterologist? ›
“Gastrologist” was a medical term used back in the early 1900s but has long since been replaced with “gastroenterologist” – which is the legitimate medical term for physicians who specialize in gastrointestinal conditions.What happens when you have a camera down your throat? ›
A gastroscopy is a test that looks at the inside of your food pipe (oesophagus), stomach and the first part of your small intestine (small bowel). A doctor or specialist nurse (endoscopist) does the test. They use a long flexible tube which has a tiny camera and light at the end.How long does a gastroscopy take? ›
If you have a gastroscopy to examine the upper part of your digestive system, it helps to know what to expect. The procedure only takes about 5 to 15 minutes. You have a choice of pain relief options.What are 4 gastrointestinal disorders? ›
Common digestive disorders include gastroesophageal reflux disease, cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, lactose intolerance and hiatal hernia.What are the symptoms of not digesting food properly? ›
- Abdominal bloating.
- Abdominal pain.
- A feeling of fullness after eating just a few bites.
- Vomiting undigested food eaten a few hours earlier.
- Acid reflux.
- Changes in blood sugar levels.
Possible causes are: The immune system responds incorrectly to environmental triggers, such as a virus or bacteria, which causes inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. There also appears to be a genetic component. Someone with a family history of IBD is more likely to develop this inappropriate immune response.What can cause stomach issues? ›
Digestion issues, including indigestion, gas, constipation, diarrhea, food allergies, and food poisoning, are all extremely common causes of stomach pain. In most cases, the discomfort will go away within a few hours or a few days. Inflammation caused by an irritation or infection.Are you asleep for an endoscopy? ›
Options range from no anesthesia or sedation at all to general anesthesia, but for upper endoscopies, moderate or deep sedation is most common. The anesthetics that may be used to minimize pain and discomfort and reduce anxiety include propofol, benzodiazepines, and opioids.Is a GI test painful? ›
An upper GI series is a painless, non-invasive way to give your healthcare provider a look inside of your esophagus, stomach and duodenum (upper small intestine). Fluoroscopy allows radiologists to see your organs in motion and observe how well they're working, as well as any abnormalities in the way they look.
You will be awake during the procedure, but you will take medicine to relax you (a sedative) before the test. Someone will have to drive you home afterward. Follow any other instructions your provider gives you to get ready.What does poop look like with diverticulitis? ›
Narrow or pellet-like stools: if you have advanced or severe diverticulitis, your large intestine may narrow, causing stool to become thin, narrow, or pellet-shaped.What does bowel failure feel like? ›
Bloating. Diarrhea. Extreme tiredness (fatigue) Malabsorption of nutrients.Where is the pain located with bowel disease? ›
It primarily affects the rectum—the last few inches of the large intestine, which connects to the anus. Rectal pain comes from very low in the middle of the abdomen.Do blood tests show digestive problems? ›
Blood tests can show levels of specific substances in the blood. Digestive issues for which blood tests support a diagnosis include Celiac disease, inflammatory bowel diseases (Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis), stomach ulcers, stomach cancer and food allergies.What are the 2 most common tests for GI function? ›
Common GI exams include: Barium Swallow Test (Esophagram): An examination of the esophagus as it swallows. (Approximate time: one hour.) Upper GI Series: An examination of the esophagus, stomach and duodenum (upper small intestine) as they digest.Does gastroenterologist test stool? ›
Along with a physical examination, a gastroenterologist may also perform a blood test and stool sample to look for infections or signs of inflammation. A stool sample may be able to tell us whether your chronic diarrhea is being caused by: Ulcerative colitis. Crohn's disease.Can a gastroenterologist remove hemorrhoids? ›
Overall, the majority of patients presenting with symptomatic hemorrhoids improve with a bowel management program alone. Gastroenterologists can offer a successful alternative to invasive surgical excision. These procedures are all performed above the dentate line, and therefore do not require anesthesia.What is done for an endoscopy? ›
An upper gastrointestinal endoscopy involves inserting a flexible, lighted tube called an endoscope down your throat and into your esophagus. A tiny camera on the end of the endoscope lets your doctor examine your esophagus, stomach and the beginning of your small intestine, called the duodenum.How does a gastroenterologist check for internal hemorrhoids? ›
The doctor will examine the anus and rectum to look for swollen blood vessels that indicate hemorrhoids and will also perform a digital rectal exam with a gloved, lubricated finger to feel for abnormalities.
Gastroenterologists diagnose, treat and work to prevent gastrointestinal (stomach and intestines) and hepatological (liver, gallbladder, biliary tree and pancreas) diseases.What shrinks hemorrhoids fast? ›
- Eat high-fiber foods. Eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains. ...
- Use topical treatments. Apply an over-the-counter hemorrhoid cream or suppository containing hydrocortisone, or use pads containing witch hazel or a numbing agent.
- Soak regularly in a warm bath or sitz bath. ...
- Take oral pain relievers.
Some common problems include heartburn, cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, and lactose intolerance. Other digestive diseases include: Gallstones, cholecystitis, and cholangitis. Rectal problems, such as anal fissure, hemorrhoids, proctitis, and rectal prolapse.What are the 3 gastrointestinal diseases? ›
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Crohn's Disease.
- Celiac Disease.