A gastroenterologist is a physician that specializes in the health of the gastrointestinal tract. A gastroenterologist diagnoses and treats all disorders causing pain or discomfort to the digestive system. Your primary care doctor can tell you when an issue is serious enough to see a GI specialist.
Keep reading to discover signs it's time for you to see a gastroenterologist.
Only about 2% of the adult population suffer from chronic abdominal pain (CAP), with woman being the primary affected group. CAP lasting longer than 6 months could be a sign of stomach ulcers, gallstones, or something as serious as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). IBD encompasses a group of disorders that are characterized by swelling and inflammation of the intestines. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) has similar symptoms and is a frequent cause of CAP.
Chronic abdominal pain could also occur as a result of gas, bloating, overeating, muscle strain, or stress. If you experience frequent bloating, discomfort, or stomach pain after eating, your gastroenterologist will be able to help.
Abnormal Bowel Movements or Bleeding
Frequent diarrhea, constipation, or rectal bleeding are all red flags that indicate it's time to see your gastroenterologist. Fewer than three bowel movements a week indicate that there may be an underlying issue causing constipation. More than three runny movements in a week may indicate the presence of a virus or parasite or other underlying diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome.
Studies indicate that 10 to 15 percent of the population suffers from symptoms of IBS, but most go undiagnosed. While IBS can be managed with lifestyle changes and is usually not life-threatening, it can be uncomfortable to live with. Speaking to your doctor is the best way to diagnose the cause of your bowel changes and return to a normal lifestyle.
You are 50+
Not all visits to the gastroenterologist need to be preceded by digestive problems. After age 50, you should receive regular colonoscopies. Your primary care physician can tell you if you need to be screened sooner or more often. These procedures screen for polyps or irregularities that indicate colorectal cancer. Early detection decreases the chances of cancer spreading before it is discovered, leading to a 90% survival rate within 5 years of diagnosis.
Frequent Heartburn, Esophageal Pain, or Difficulty Swallowing
Acid reflux is a fairly common gastrointestinal occurrence. If it occurs frequently for more than six months, you may be suffering from something more serious. Your doctor will perform a test to determine if you are suffering from gastroesophageal reflux disease. About 20% of the US population is affected by GERD.
For pain in the esophagus or difficulty swallowing, your doctor may use an upper endoscopy to determine the cause. During this procedure, your doctor examines the upper part of your digestive tract, including your esophagus, your stomach, and the small intestine. Esophageal pain may be caused by frequent vomiting, GERD, swallowing disorders, or other conditions.
If you are experiencing persistent abdominal pain, acid reflux, or abnormal bowel movements, it's time to see a specialist. Speak to your primary care physician for referrals. The right gastroenterologist will ask you a series of questions before performing a variety of tests to diagnose the source of the issue and get you back to living a healthy lifestyle.