Gastroenterology is a wide and specialized field of medicine concerned
with the digestive system. The digestive system includes the 25-foot-long
tube that processes food and nutrients, plus the liver, pancreas and gallbladder.
These organs break down and absorb the food we eat so that the nutrients
can be transported into the blood stream and delivered to cells throughout the body.
'Good' digestive health indicates an ability to process nutrients
through properly functioning gastrointestinal organs, including the stomach,
intestine, liver, pancreas and gallbladder. When these organs do not function
properly, patients may need to see a gastroenterologist.
What Is a Gastroenterologist?
Doctors of gastroenterology do not perform surgery to treat diseases, but
they may be board certified to perform biopsies and endoscopic xaminations.
Gastroenterologists use endoscopy, utrasound, blood and bodily fluids
tests, and surgery to make a diagnosis. It is often possible to treat
patients during endoscopy where necessary, by using the endoscope (a long,
flexible tube inserted through the mouth into various digestive regions)
to insert tools for removing stones and growths, destroying cysts, inserting
a stent, injecting cancer medications, or inserting a nerve block.
Illnesses Treated by Gastroenterologists
In addition to rare disorders of the digestive system, gastroenterologists
diagnose or treat the following common conditions:
- Colorectal cancer, including determining whether you have a genetic risk
- Viral hepatitis
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis
- Diverticulitis, diverticulosis and ischemic bowel disease
- Celiac disease and food intolerances
- Heartburn and GERD
- Chronic vomiting and gastroparesis
- Functional illness, such as constipation, diarrhea, vomiting, belching
- Peptic ulcer disease and Helicobacter pylori
- Acute and chronic pancreatitis
- Gallbladder disease
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
- GI infections caused by viruses, bacteria, fungi and protozoa
Tests Performed by a GI Doctor
Gastroenterologists use a number of techniques to view the organs of the
digestive tract. The most common tests they perform are colonoscopy and
Colonoscopy is performed to examine the large intestine for disease, most commonly
colorectal cancer. Everyone age 50 and older should be screened for colorectal
cancer. When performing a colonoscopy, the gastroenterologist uses a long,
thin, flexible tube with a tiny video camera and a light on the end —
called the colonoscope — to view the entire colon and rectum and
check for polyps, inflammatory changes or cancer. If polyps are found,
they often can be removed with this procedure.
Endoscopy can be helpful in the evaluation or diagnosis of various problems, including
difficult or painful swallowing, pain in the stomach or abdomen, bleeding,
ulcers, tumors, and problems with the gallbladder, pancreas and bile ducts.
An endoscope is a long, thin, flexible tube with a tiny video camera and
light on the end. By adjusting the controls on the endoscope, the gastroenterologist
can safely guide the instrument to carefully examine the inside lining
of the upper digestive system. In some cases, GIs can treat digestive
conditions through the endoscope.
Some gastroenterologists perform newer tests to examine the GI tract, such
as CT colonography where the GI doctor can inspect radiological images
of the colon to check for polyps and cancers, and capsule endoscopy, during
which the patient swallows a camera that records images of the GI tract.
Our physicians have years of experience treating a wide range of gastroenterology
conditions. For more information or for a free physician referral to a
gastroenterologist, call 561.95.LEARN (561.955.3276).