A gastroenterologist is a specialist who deals with all conditions that affect the digestive health system. They diagnose, treat, and care for people with gut-related conditions and disorders such as celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, gastroesophageal reflux disease, etc. You may wonder why you should see a gastroenterologist. Before we get into that, it is crucial to learn about gastroenterology.

What is gastroenterology?

Gastroenterology is one of the specialties of internal medicine and involves the study of the function and diseases of the gastrointestinal tract and digestive system. A gastroenterologist has a detailed understanding of the gastrointestinal organs, movement of materials through the stomach and intestines, nutrients’ digestion and absorption, and the removal of body waste.

Who is a gastroenterologist?

Now that you know what gastroenterology entails, you can easily understand what a gastroenterologist does. Since the gastrointestinal system is responsible for food digestion, absorption of nutrients, and waste removal from the body, a gastroenterologist diagnoses and treats conditions of the gastrointestinal system. They focus on the following areas:

  • The physiology and normal functioning of the gastrointestinal system.
  • The movement of solids and liquids through the digestive tract.
  • The digestion and breakdown of food.
  • The absorption of nutrients by the body.
  • The removal of waste from the body through the anus.

A gastroenterologist focuses on all normal activities and disorders affecting the digestive system, including the esophagus, stomach, small intestines, large intestines, colon, rectum, anus, pancreas, liver, gall bladder, and bile ducts. They work closely with other health professionals like hepatologists, radiologists, and oncologists to diagnose, treat and manage gastrointestinal system conditions.

What do they treat?

A gastrointestinal specialist treats many symptoms and diseases, including:

  • Gastrooesophageal acid reflux.
  • Inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis).
  • Inflammatory bowel disease.
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
  • Constipation, bloating, and bloody stool.
  • Polyps in the large intestine.
  • Hepatitis.
  • Gastrointestinal cancer.
  • Hemorrhoids.
  • Reflux esophagitis.
  • Jaundice.
  • Any condition associated with the gastrointestinal system.

Procedures a gastroenterologist performs.

A gastroenterologist may perform several procedures to diagnose, treat and manage these conditions, including:


Endoscopy is when a gastroenterologist uses a long thin tube with a camera to look inside your gastrointestinal system. They may insert it in the mouth, down the throat, or esophagus, and it sends the images back for examination. When you visit a gastroenterology center, a specialist may use endoscopy to investigate symptoms like:

  • Frequent and severe heartburn.
  • Unexplained bloating and constipation.
  • Rectal bleeding.
  • Severe abdominal pain.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Problems with swallowing.
  • Abnormal changes in bowel movements.
  • Unexplained weight loss.

Esophageal dilation

Esophageal dilation involves stretching out a narrowed area of the esophagus. Prolonged acid reflux, layers of excess tissue, cancer or the esophagus, and lesions from radiation treatment can scar this muscular tube making it painful or hard for you to swallow food.

A gastroenterologist stretches the esophagus using a plastic dilator or inflating a balloon during an endoscopy. In most cases, sedation is applied to make the procedure as painless as possible.

Colonoscopy and sigmoidoscopy

These procedures involve inserting the tube with a camera into the rectum instead of the mouth. When a gastroenterologist performs a colonoscopy, they can examine the colon and the rectum, while a sigmoidoscopy allows them to examine the lower colon and rectum.

These procedures help a gastroenterologist diagnose early signs of colon or rectum cancer and causes of specific symptoms like severe abdominal pain, abnormal changes in bowel movements, rectal bleeding, and unexplained weight loss.


Polyps are non-cancerous growths that develop in the colon and affect at least 30% of the older adults over 50 years in the US. Some polyps are precancerous and may lead to the development of colorectal cancer. When performing a polypectomy, a gastroenterologist removes one or more polyps from the lining of the bowel. They can use radiation to burn the polyps or remove them with wire loop forceps during a colonoscopy.

Other procedures a gastroenterologist may perform include capsule endoscopies to examine small intestines, gastroscopies to diagnose small intestinal, gastric, or esophageal disease, and liver biopsies to diagnose liver inflammation and fibrosis.


When to see a gastroenterologist

You should see a gastroenterologist whenever you experience frequent digestive issues, including:

  • Severe constipation.
  • Excessive bloating.
  • Severe abdominal pain.
  • Frequent and severe heartburn.
  • Abnormal changes in bowel movements.
  • Prolonged diarrhea.
  • Gastroesophageal acid reflux.
  • Rectal bleeding or blood in the stool.
  • Trouble swallowing.
  • Abnormally light stool.
  • Yellowing skin and eyes.
  • Peptic ulcer.
  • You are due for a colonoscopy.

Although some of these symptoms are normal and may be caused by your diet or eating habits, it is crucial to visit a specialist if they get severe or unresponsive to typical home remedies and other medications. These symptoms may lead to extreme conditions and even cancer when left unaddressed.

A gastroenterologist can diagnose, treat and manage your digestive symptoms. Identifying the issues early can prevent further damage to your digestive system.

What to expect when you visit a gastroenterologist

Visiting a gastroenterologist should be no cause for worry since they specialize in digestive issues and treat people with symptoms like yours. You should be prepared to answer questions like:

  • What are your symptoms?
  • What is your pain?
  • How long do the symptoms last?
  • Do they get better or worse at certain times?
  • Does anything appear to trigger the symptoms?
  • Do you have a family history of digestive problems?
  • Have you had any surgeries or such illnesses before?

Although some symptoms may have nothing to do with your digestive system, they may help the specialist make the right choices. A gastroenterologist with physically examine you by pressing your belly to feel for any masses and listen to abnormal bowel sounds. They might also insert a finger into your rectum to feel any masses or bulges.

Next, the specialist may send you for a stool test, x-ray, CT scan, or blood test to make an accurate diagnosis. They may also suggest other procedures, like colonoscopy, to diagnose your symptoms. That helps them administer the right treatment for your symptoms and condition.


A gastroenterologist specializes in diagnosing and treating a wide range of gastrointestinal problems. You should visit one if you have any digestive issues or symptoms.

Photo by humberto chavez Danie Franco on Unsplash

Comments are closed.