If you have symptoms such as irregular bowel movements, rectal bleeding, frequent heartburn, stomach discomfort, bloating, problems swallowing, or are of the age to begin routine colorectal cancer screening, you may be sent to see a gastroenterologist, a digestive disorders expert. If your symptoms are new or moderate in intensity, you should see your usual doctor first for preliminary tests. He or she will decide if you should be sent to a specialist.
What Is a Gastroenterologist?
Many people are inclined to restrict their understanding of the human gastrointestinal system to the stomach and intestines. In actuality, gastroenterology is concerned with the normal functioning and disorders of the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, colon and rectum, pancreas, gallbladder, bile ducts, and liver. You can check out our article on introduction to gastroenterologists to know everything about this career.
Signs You Need to See a Gastroenterologist
1. Irregular Bowel Movements
- Constipation: If you have less than three bowel motions each week, it might be due to a blockage, neurological problems, muscle or hormonal dysfunction, nutrition, or other causes. A gastroenterologist can assist you in determining the reason.
- Diarrhea: If you have runny stool for more than a few days, it might be caused by a virus, parasite/bacteria, lactose intolerance, a response to medication(s), or it could be a sign of another digestive condition, such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, to name a few.
2. Bleeding in the Rectal Area
The severity of the causes of blood in the stool varies, but it typically indicates that there is bleeding somewhere in your digestive tract. This might be due to an anal fissure (a tiny cut or tear in the tissue lining the anus), hemorrhoids, or something more serious, such as cancer.
3. Constant Heartburn
Occasional heartburn is probably nothing to worry about, but regular heartburn might be a sign of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), Barrett’s Esophagus, or even esophageal cancer. If you experience frequent acid reflux, you may be diagnosed with GERD and begin taking medicine to relieve your discomfort, as well as tests to confirm the diagnosis.
4. You’ve Reached Your 50s
Once you are 50 years old or older, you should see a gastroenterologist to be screened for colorectal cancer on a regular basis. A screening test is a preventive intervention that should be performed before symptoms appear. Colorectal cancer frequently starts as precancerous polyps, which can be identified and removed during a colonoscopy. The US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends screening for colorectal cancer in people aged 50 to 75. Some people require screening colonoscopies sooner than others. African Americans, for example, should begin the screening procedure at the age of 45.
5. Pain and Bloating in the Abdomen
Occasional, slight stomach discomfort and bloating may not be enough to warrant a visit to a doctor. However, if you have stomach pain or bloating after virtually every meal, or if it is accompanied by nausea or unpleasant bowel movements, notify your doctor, as they may opt to send you to a gastroenterologist for additional testing.
6. Pain in the Esophagus or Difficulty Swallowing (Dysphagia)
You may have trouble swallowing or be unable to swallow as a result of a medical condition. If you have regular esophageal pain or trouble swallowing, or if your problem swallowing worsens over time, a gastroenterologist may do an upper endoscopy to discover the source of your discomfort and begin therapy.
You should keep in mind all the 6 signs above in case you or your family have a medical issue. Consult a gastroenterologist immediately if you experience one of those signs. Trust me, you don’t want to risk your life for a symptom that you think is insignificant.