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Gastroenterology 101: The ‘Who’ And ‘When’ Of Gastroenterologists

Dr. Mirza Ilyas Baig

3 min read

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‘Gastroenterology’ is a sub-specialty of Internal Medicine and is concerned with diseases affecting the organs of the Gastrointestinal system. According to the NHS in UK, this specialization focuses on diseases that affect the stomach, small and large intestines, esophagus, liver, pancreas, and gallbladder. Below we discuss what gastroenterologists are and how can they help you.

Who is a Gastroenterologist?

Physicians specializing in this hard-to-pronounce medical field deal with the diagnosis and treatment of various diseases affecting the gastrointestinal (GI) tract-otherwise known as the ‘digestive system’-and the liver. They also have a thorough knowledge of ‘motility’ (movement of food through the digestive tract) and ‘digestion’ (the chemical and physical breakdown of food)-the two main functions of the digestive system-and various related disorders.

What Makes Them Unique:

Gastroenterologists are extensively trained in all forms of endoscopy using specialized instruments to view the GI tract and accurately diagnose various diseases. They can expertly perform upper endoscopy, sigmoidoscopy, and colonoscopy as well as advanced endoscopic procedures such as polypectomy (removal of colon polyps), esophageal and intestinal dilation (stretching of narrowed areas), and hemostasis (injection to stop bleeding), and the necessary precautions required to ensure a patient’s comfort and security.

Note that gastroenterologists do not perform surgery, but can work in cooperation with Gastrointestinal Surgeons.

The Conditions Gastroenterologists Treat:

Some of the conditions and diseases that a GI Specialist can detect and treat include:

  • Cancer of all GI tract organs; these are all the cancers that impact the digestive system. Some of these include stomach cancer, liver cancer, pancreatic cancer etc.
  • Celiac disease; this is an autoimmune disease in which the consumption of certain foods that contain gluten (e.g. wheat) initiates the white blood cells to damage the lining of the small intestine.  ultimately eroding it until it’s worn smooth.
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS); this is an operating problem in the colon (a part of the large intestine). The effects of IBS includes indigestion, abdominal pain, and diarrhea.
  • Gallbladder diseases; these are any conditions that affect the gallbladder like gallstones. The gallbladder is a pear-shaped body part that is situated below the liver and contain bile (a liquid that helps digest fat).
  • Heartburn; this refers to a burning sensation in the chest or throat accompanied by pain. This occurs due to stomach acid coming in to the esophagus (the tube responsible for carrying from the mouth to the stomach) when the lower esophageal sphincter doesn’t close correctly.
  • Hemorrhoids; these are a common issue that arises due to the swelling of veins in the anus and rectum because of high pressure.
  • Pancreatitis; this is when the pancreas swell up. Real damage is brought on when enzymes that help in digestion start attacking the pancreas and damaging it.
  • Colon Polyps; these are unwanted bumps that occur on the skin of the large intestine i.e. colon. These are common in people that are of age forty and above. Polyps can translate into colon cancer which is why doctors normally remove them in a colonoscopy.
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD); this is a chronic problem in the digestive system which is basically the case of continuous Heartburn. This can also cause erosion of teeth and pain in the chest.  
  • Crohn’s Disease; this refers to an incurable condition which is characterized by an inflamed digestive tract. The symptoms include blood in stool, weight loss, pain in the abdomen etc.
  • Hiatal Hernias; this occurs when the upper section of the stomach or adjoining organs protrude through the thoracic diaphragm (the muscle that separates the abdomen from the chest).
In addition to these diseases, a Gastroenterologist can also help in the treatment of various symptoms such as abdominal pain and discomfort, digestive tract bleeding, constipation, diarrhea, difficulty in swallowing and unexplained weight loss.

The Procedures They Perform:

Doctors specializing in Gastroenterology can perform the following non-surgical procedures:

  • Endoscopic Ultrasound: For examining the upper and lower GI tract and other internal organs.
  • Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography: For identification of gallstones, tumors, or scar tissue in the bile duct area.
  • Capsule Endoscopy and Double Balloon Enteroscopy: For small intestine examination.
  • Colonoscopy: For colon cancer or colon polyp detection.
  • Sigmoidoscopy: For evaluating bowel pain and blood loss.
  • Liver Biopsy: For assessing inflammation and fibrosis.

When to Visit a Gastroenterologist:

While it is necessary for individuals over the age of 50 to go for regular screenings as preventive care against developing colorectal cancer, you should also consider an appointment if you observe unexplained blood in your stool, have unexplained swallowing problems or experience severe abdominal pain.

Patients who are currently suffering or have suffered from Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, or irritable bowel syndrome must consult with a specialist immediately in case of resurgence or a sudden flare-up of these conditions. You might also be referred to a gastroenterologist if ‘hepatitis’ or ‘pancreatitis’ is suspected.

As prevention is better than cure, gastroenterologists should be consulted on a regular basis in order to avoid GI cancers if you are considered to be at higher risk of developing them OR any of the possibly life-threatening conditions mentioned above. Book an Appointment with a top Gastroenterologist in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad through oladoc.com. Or call our helpline at 042-3890-0939 for assistance to find the RIGHT Doctor for your gastric issues.

Disclaimer: The contents of this article are intended to raise awareness about common health issues and should not be viewed as sound medical advice for your specific condition. You should always consult with a licensed medical practitioner prior to following any suggestions outlined in this article or adopting any treatment protocol based on the contents of this article.

Dr. Mirza Ilyas Baig
Dr. Mirza Ilyas Baig - Author Dr. Mirza Ilyas Baig is Associate Professor of Medicine at Fatima Memorial Hospital College of Medicine and Dentistry. He provides consultation for medical illnesses and Gastro related diseases. He currently practices at Fatima Memorial Hospital and Saadan Hospital.

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