We’ve all suffered from an unsettled stomach at some point in our lives. But for some people, digestive issues aren’t just a fluke; they stem from a much larger issue.
Whether you “power through” despite persistent heartburn – or are in a state of perpetual constipation, you may have made a visit to a gastroenterologist, or GI doctor. Requiring a unique blend of cognitive and manual skills, physicians in the field of gastroenterology diagnose, treat, and provide preventive care for a wide array of conditions.
When it comes to medical advancements, gastroenterology is one area of medicine forever in flux, including cutting-edge treatment techniques, to advanced early screenings for diseases such as colon cancer.
What Gastroenterologists Do
Gastroenterologists treat any part of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, which runs from the throat to the anus. The digestive system’s proper functioning is essential, as it digests and moves the food we consume, absorbs nutrients, and extracts waste.
Whether your GI tract is running properly and you want to keep it that way, or if something has gone awry – a GI doctor is the one to see. Gastroenterologists who are certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine have completed an extensive series of academic requirements, including a 4-year college degree, four years of medical school, a 3-year residency program, and finally a two- or three-year fellowship in a specialized area.
One of the common reasons people visit a gastroenterologist is for regular colon screenings, better known as a colonoscopy. The procedure involves the use of a long, flexible tube (or colonoscope) inserted into the intestinal tract via the rectum. A tiny video camera at the end of the device allows the doctor to view the inside of the colon. This diagnostic procedure is highly effective for detecting polyps and colon cancer. Most GI doctors will recommend that patients who are age 50 or older, and at average risk of colon cancer (meaning age is their only risk factor) undergo a colonoscopy every 10 years. Doctors in this specialty will also diagnose and treat anorectal conditions including hemorrhoids and neoplasms.
Much of a GI doctor’s time is spent increasing the quality of life for those living with digestive diseases.
Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease – which both fall under the category of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) – are a major focus for GI doctors. A gastroenterologist might prescribe these patients medication, give them advice for mitigating chronic symptoms, and provide them with needed medical care.
One of the reasons why so much education is required of GI doctors is because the conditions they work with can be quite elusive. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is one condition that results in 2.5 to 3.5 million yearly visits to gastroenterologists. The condition can be difficult to diagnose due to its symptoms, including gas, pain, and bloating, which are common to many illnesses and medical problems.
GI docs use a variety of diagnostic tools to determine the root cause of your discomfort. A few common diagnostics are blood tests, stool samples, a barium enema, and the aforementioned colonoscopy. Gastroenterologists also perform minimally invasive procedures such as a GI endoscopy, which allows your GI doctor to see and evaluate digestive tract maladies including ulcers.
Time Split Between Office Visits, Hospital Procedures
Many GI doctors spend part of their time at the office seeing patients, and the other time at a hospital or outpatient facility performing procedures like endoscopies or colonoscopies.
Hospital days present scheduling challenges, a major one being having to regularly switch hats, from performing endoscopies, to seeing patients on rounds and meeting with new patients.
A patient-focused facility established in 1980, Austin Gastroenterology is run by venerated, board-certified professionals equipped to diagnose and treat an array of GI disorders. For more information, call the office location closest to you.