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6 Signs You Need to See a Gastroenterologist

Abnormal bowel movements, rectal bleeding, frequent heartburn, abdominal pain/bloating, trouble swallowing, and 50+ years of age are all triggers for scheduling a consultation with a gastroenterologist.

October 03, 2018 2 minute read

You may be instructed to visit a gastroenterologist, a digestive diseases specialist, if you are experiencing symptoms such as abnormal bowel movements, rectal bleeding, frequent heartburn, abdominal pain, bloating, trouble swallowing, or are of age to begin regularly screening for colorectal cancer.

If your symptoms are brand new, or mild in severity, you may want to first visit your regular physician for preliminary testing. He or she determine whether or not you should be referred to a specialist.

What Is a Gastroenterologist?

When we consider the human gastrointestinal system, many are tempted to limit it to the stomach and intestines. In reality, gastroenterology examines the normal function and diseases of the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, colon and rectum, pancreas, gallbladder, bile ducts and liver.

Conditions Managed by Gastroenterologists

The most common conditions, diseases, and disorders diagnosed and treated by gastroenterologists include the following:

  • Cancer (Gastrointestinal, Liver, Pancreatic, Colorectal)
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
  • Celiac Disease
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease
  • Gallbladder Disease
  • GERD (Heartburn, Acid Reflux)
  • Hemorrhoids (Swollen Veins in the Lowest Part of the Rectum and Anus)
  • Polyps (Abnormal Tissue Growths)
  • Ulcers (Painful Sores in the Stomach Lining)
  • Pancreatitis

There are some frequently occurring signs and symptoms that may warrant a visit to your gastroenterologist, who can then diagnose and treat any one of the myriad disorders related to your symptoms. Here are six signs you should consider scheduling a consultation with your gastroenterologist:

1. Abnormal Bowel Movements

  • Constipation: If you pass fewer than three bowel movements per week, your constipation may be due to blockage, neurological issues, muscular or hormonal malfunction, diet or other factors. A gastroenterologist may help you determine which the cause is. 
  • Diarrhea: If runny stool persists for more than a few days, it could be due to a virus, parasite/bacteria, lactose intolerance, a reaction to medication(s), or it could be indicative of other digestive disorders, such as Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis, just to name a few.

2. Rectal Bleeding

  • Causes of blood in the stool can vary in severity, but generally means there is bleeding somewhere in your digestive tract. This may be caused by an anal fissure (a small cut or tear in the tissue lining the anus), hemorrhoids, or it could be something requiring medical attention, such as cancer.

3. Frequent Heartburn

Occasional heartburn is likely nothing to be concerned with, but frequent heartburn may indicate Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), Barrett's Esophagus, and possibly, even esophageal cancer. If acid reflux occurs often, you may be diagnosed with GERD and begin receiving medication to alleviate your discomfort, and have testing to confirm the diagnosis. 

4. You're of Age to be Regularly Screened for Colorectal Cancer (50+ Years)

A screening test is a preventative measure, and should be administered before symptoms present. Colorectal cancer often begins as precancerous polyps that can be detected and removed during a colonoscopy. The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) suggests adults aged 50 to 75 be screened for colorectal cancer. Some patients need screening colonoscopies earlier. For example, African Americans should start the screening process at age 45. 

5. Abdominal Pain and Bloating

Occasional, mild abdominal pain and bloating may not be cause enough to see a specialist. However, if abdominal pain or bloating occurs after nearly every meal you eat, or is accompanied by nausea, or painful bowel movements,  be sure to inform your physician of those aspects of your discomfort, as they may then decide to refer you to a gastroenterologist for further tests.

Note: Read this blog—"Pain Locator: Where Does it Hurt?"—to learn more about abdominal pain and what it could mean for your health.

6. Esophageal Pain or Difficulty Swallowing (Dysphagia)

Certain ailments could cause you to experience difficulty swallowing, or inability to swallow. If you experience frequent esophageal pain or difficulty swallowing, or if difficulty swallowing intensifies over time, a gastroenterologist may conduct a procedure known as an upper endoscopy to determine the cause of your discomfort and begin administering treatment.


Gastroenterology Associates specializes in helping restore you and your family to optimal digestive health. We are conveniently located adjacent to Long Island Center for Digestive Health (LICDH), a New York State-licensed non-hospital outpatient facility dedicated to providing high-quality endoscopic and colonoscopic services in a comfortable, welcoming environment. For more information or to schedule an appointment, contact us today!

Topics: gastroenterology associates