Primary care physicians can treat and diagnose a broad range of conditions. Sometimes, further testing and treatment for certain symptoms may be needed, in which case they may refer you to a specialist. 

Gastroenterology is a medical specialty that deals with the digestive system. Here’s a closer look into what this branch of medicine entails.

What Is Gastroenterology?

Gastroenterology is the umbrella term for the medical field focused on care for the digestive organs and diseases that affect them. Gastroenterologists are doctors who start out as general physicians and complete three additional years of medical residency to earn certification for their expertise in gastrointestinal conditions. These specialists also receive training to perform specific exams and procedures outside the realm of general practice.

What Areas of the Body & Conditions Do Gastroenterologists Treat?

When we think of the digestive system, the stomach and intestines often come to mind, but gastroenterology encompasses all normal activity and disease of the digestive system. Gastroenterologists must therefore be experts in the movement of food through the body, how nutrients are absorbed into the body, and how waste gets processed in the body, including through the liver. This means gastroenterology deals with all components of the digestive system, including your:

  • Esophagus
  • Stomach
  • Small intestine
  • Colon
  • Rectum
  • Pancreas
  • Gallbladder
  • Bile ducts
  • Liver

While the conditions gastroenterologists treat can span far and wide, a few of the more common issues they treat include:

  • Gastrointestinal conditions, such as celiac disease, stomach ulcers, colorectal polyps, hemorrhoids, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, appendicitis, diverticulitis, and food allergies or intolerances
  • Esophageal conditions, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), swallowing challenges, hiatal hernias, and esophagitis
  • Liver conditions, such as toxic or viral hepatitis, fatty liver disease, and cirrhosis
  • Pancreatic, biliary, and gallbladder conditions, such as pancreatitis, cholecystitis, and gallstones

Why Would Someone Need to See a Gastroenterologist?

Oftentimes, general practitioners will refer patients to gastroenterologists when they have persistent or severe gastrointestinal symptoms that may indicate a more serious condition, such as a gastrointestinal cancer. For example, you might see one of these specialists if you’re experiencing abdominal pain or other uncomfortable stomach issues, such as bloating, indigestion, gas, or constipation. Persistent nausea and vomiting or diarrhea are also reasons to see a gastroenterologist, as are unexplained weight loss and rectal bleeding.

What to Expect When Seeing a Gastroenterologist

“The course of treatment you receive from a gastroenterologist will depend on the symptoms you’re experiencing,” explains Dr. Minesh Mehta. “They may start by discussing your symptoms and relevant health information, and perform a physical examination by feeling or listening to your abdominal organs from the outside. Depending on their findings, your gastroenterologist may order further testing to make a diagnosis.” 

Gastroenterologists can also perform endoscopic procedures, during which a small camera is inserted through the esophagus with a long, thin tube. In addition to helping doctors investigate symptoms, endoscopy can also be used to collect tissue samples or even treat certain conditions, such as polyps.

In our commitment to provide a healthier tomorrow, University Health Alliance offers a wide range of general and advanced gastroenterology services. Find out more about our gastroenterology care online, or schedule a visit by calling 762-356-4785.