For those who are experiencing gastrointestinal (GI) issues, it is important to receive the right support. The digestive tract is complex, and many symptoms may indicate disease. Although an individual might contact a primary care physician (PCP) at the first signs of gastric issues, a gastroenterologist may be required for proper GI treatment.
Should I See a PCP or Gastroenterologist?
There are far-flung differences between gastroenterologists and PCPs. Gastroenterology is a medical field that focuses on the treatment of GI issues. A gastroenterologist has an in-depth understanding of the physiology of the GI organs and the digestion and absorption of nutrients in the body.
Digestive diseases can disrupt daily life and gastric symptoms often are associated with underlying medical conditions. A gastroenterologist possesses comprehensive GI expertise, and as such, can help a patient identify and address the underlying causes of GI conditions. Plus, a gastroenterologist’s expertise enables him or her to detect and treat diseases in a number of areas of the body, including:
- Small intestine
- Bile ducts
In most instances, patients are referred to a gastroenterologist by a PCP. They may be referred to a gastroenterologist for many reasons, including:
- Esophageal pain
- Abdominal pain or bloating
- Excessive gas or belching
- Dark urine
- Rectal bleeding
- Loss of appetite or weight
5 GI Conditions Treated by a Gastroenterologist
There are various GI conditions that may require treatment from a gastroenterologist. Here are five GI conditions that are frequently treated by gastroenterologists.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
GERD is a chronic digestive system disease. It causes acids and other contents of the stomach to back up. This results in irritation of sensitive tissues in the esophagus.
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases estimates GERD affects approximately 20% of the U.S. population. GERD can impact anyone, at any time. However, those who most often develop GERD are:
- Overweight or obese
- Taking certain types of medicines, such as antihistamines, painkillers, sedatives or anti-depressants
- Smokers or individuals regularly exposed to secondhand smoke
Common GERD symptoms include bad breath, nausea, chest pain and vomiting. An individual may be able to address initial GERD symptoms with over-the-counter medications or dietary changes. Conversely, if GERD symptoms persist, a gastroenterologist may be required. This specialist can perform tests to identify and diagnose GERD. If GERD is confirmed, a gastroenterologist will evaluate long-term treatment options with a patient.
Celiac disease refers to an immune reaction that occurs when individuals consume gluten, a protein found in barley, rye and wheat. For those with Celiac disease, gluten triggers an immune response in the small intestine. This results in damage to the small intestine’s lining over time.
Celiac disease is difficult to diagnose in kids and adults. It may cause fatigue, diarrhea, weight loss and other health complications. The disease also causes symptoms unrelated to the digestive system, such as anemia, mouth ulcers and joint pain.
Treating Celiac disease can be tough. The only known treatment to the disease is adhering to a gluten-free diet. And if Celiac disease symptoms go unaddressed over an extended period of time, long-term health conditions like gallbladder malfunction and lactose intolerance may develop.
A gastroenterologist will run tests to diagnose Celiac disease. Typically, this specialist will assess a patient’s medical history, perform blood tests and learn about a patient’s symptoms. If the gastroenterologist determines Celiac disease is the cause of a patient’s GI problems, he or she can help this individual implement a gluten-free diet.
A colon polyp is a cluster of cells that develops on the lining of the colon. Oftentimes, a colon polyp is harmless. Yet some colon polyps may develop into colon cancer over time.
Most colon polyps are non-neoplastic and do not become cancerous. On the other hand, neoplastic polyps are adenomatous (consist of glandular tissue) or serrated (have a saw-like appearance). Adenomatous and serrated polyps are precancerous, and people with these types of polyps are at greater risk than others of developing cancer.
Colon polyps rarely, if ever, produce symptoms until they grow. They may be identified during a colonoscopy, a procedure that is used to evaluate the colon with a flexible fiber-optic scope. A colonoscopy may be performed under sedation and is virtually painless for most patients.
A gastroenterologist may use a colonoscopy to remove colon polyps. If the colon polyp is small enough, a gastroenterologist may be able to remove it with forceps. Or, a gastroenterologist may use a wire-loop device or laser-like device to eliminate a large colon polyp. After a colon polyp is removed, it will be sent to a pathologist for further evaluation.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
IBD consists of several intestinal disorders that cause inflammation of the digestive tract. The two most common intestinal disorders associated with IBD are:
- Crohn’s Disease: Causes inflammation that may appear anywhere in the GI tract from the mouth to the anus.
- Ulcerative Colitis: Affects the colon and rectum and causes inflammation on the innermost lining of the large intestine.
The cause of IBD is unknown. Studies have shown an individual may be more likely than others to develop IBD if his or her parents previously dealt with the disease. Meanwhile, IBD may impact those who experience digestive tract inflammation, even if there is no infection that causes the inflammation. In this instance, the immune system attacks its own cells, which may cause digestive tract inflammation that lingers for many months or years.
A gastroenterologist may perform multiple tests to make an IBD diagnosis. Both a colonoscopy and cross-sectional imaging may be used to evaluate the colon or upper GI tract. Furthermore, blood tests may be administered to detect markers commonly linked to IBD. A gastroenterologist may request a physical exam and evaluate a patient’s medical history, too.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
IBS, also known as a spastic colon, is a GI disorder characterized by a variety of symptoms. These include:
- Food intolerance
- Abdominal pain
There is no surefire cause of IBS, but several risk factors have been linked to the condition. Common IBS risk factors include:
- Food sensitivities: Occur due to acids in food or poor absorption of sugars.
- Gastroenteritis (stomach flu): Bacterial infection of the intestines and stomach.
- Hypersensitivity to pain: Caused by a full bowel or gas.
A gastroenterologist may perform an upper endoscopy or colonoscopy to provide an IBS diagnosis. This specialist can then help a patient determine the best way to manage IBS symptoms. They can treat a wide range of GI issues and are equipped to perform many GI procedures. These procedures include:
- Colonoscopy: Endoscopic examination of the large intestine and the distal part of the small bowel. A colonoscopy offers a visual diagnosis of ulcers, tumors and areas of inflammation or bleeding.
- Polypectomy: Procedure to eliminate polyps from the colon. A polypectomy is non-invasive and may be completed at the same time as a colonoscopy.
- Upper Endoscopy: Procedure that provides a view of the upper part of a patient’s GI tract. A gastroenterologist can use an upper endoscopy to visualize the esophagus, stomach and duodenum and diagnose and treat upper GI tract conditions.
- Flexible Sigmoidoscopy: Procedure that transmits a video image from inside the colon to a computer screen. With a flexible sigmoidoscopy, a gastroenterologist can biopsy abnormal-looking tissues, identify inflamed tissues and diagnose changes in bowel habits, abdominal pain, bleeding from the anus and weight loss.
- Capsule Endoscopy: Diagnostic procedure used to evaluate the digestive tract. Capsule endoscopy is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and allows a gastroenterologist to detect and treat disorders of the small intestine.
Many gastroenterologists are available in the Los Angeles area, but not all of these GI specialists are created equal. When it comes to finding the best support with GI issues, there may be no better option than working with the specialists at LA Peer Health Systems.
The LA Peer Health Systems Gastroenterology Department employs a team of expert gastroenterologists and surgeons, including gastroenterologist Dr. Tabib. In fact, this team both diagnoses and treats chronic digestive conditions and performs non-emergency procedures.
There is no need to wait to treat your GI issues. To find out more about how LA Peer Health Systems can help you address GI conditions, please call (855) 360-9119 and ask to speak with our Department of Gastroenterology.