Signs You Need to See a Gastroenterologist

Abnormal bowel movements, rectal bleeding, frequent heartburn, abdominal pain/bloating, trouble swallowing, and 45+ years of age are all reasons you may decide to call a gastroenterologist.

October 12, 2021 4 minute read

You may be instructed to visit a digestive diseases specialist known as a gastroenterologist 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 regular screenings for colorectal cancer.

If your symptoms are new, or mild in severity, you may want to first visit your regular physician for preliminary testing. He or she determines 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. 

The American College of Gastroenterology defines a gastroenterologist as “a physician with dedicated training in management of diseases of the gastrointestinal tract and liver...The unique training that Gastroenterologists complete provides them with the ability to provide high quality, comprehensive care for patients with a wide variety of gastrointestinal ailments. Gastroenterologists perform the bulk of research involving gastrointestinal endoscopic procedures as well as the interpretation of results, and are considered experts in the field.”

Procedures Performed by Gastroenterologists

Gastroenterologists perform the following procedures and treatments, for which they’ve received extensive training:

  • Upper Endoscopy
  • Sigmoidoscopy
  • Colonoscopy
  • Polypectomy
  • Esophageal & Intestinal Dilation
  • Hemostasis
  • Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography
  • Endoscopic Mucosal Resection
  • Endoscopic Ultrasound

Conditions Managed by Gastroenterologists

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

  • Cancer (Gastrointestinal, Liver, Pancreatic, Colorectal)
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
  • Centrally Mediated Abdominal Pain Syndrome (CAPS)
  • Celiac Disease
  • Gastroparesis
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease
  • Gallbladder Disease
  • GERD (Heartburn, Acid Reflux)
  • Hemorrhoids (Swollen Veins in the Lowest Part of the Rectum & Anus)
  • Hepatitis C
  • 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 related disorders. 

Here are seven 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 can help determine the cause. 
  • Diarrhea: If runny stools persist for more than a few days, it could be due to a virus, parasite/bacteria, lactose intolerance, reaction to medication(s), or indicative of other digestive disorders, such as Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis, just to name a few.
  • Excessive Gas: Although everyone experiences gas, excessive gas in addition to other symptoms can be concerning, and possibly indicative of lactose intolerance, Crohn’s disease, or colon cancer. 

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. Testing can confirm the diagnosis. 

4.You're of Age (45+ Years) for Regular Colorectal Cancer Screenings

A screening test is preventative and should be administered before symptoms present. Colorectal cancer often begins as precancerous polyps detected and removed during a colonoscopy. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) suggests adults ages 45 to 75 be screened for colorectal cancer. Some patients need screening colonoscopies earlier, especially if they have colorectal cancer in their family medical history.

5. Abdominal Pain & Bloating

Occasional mild abdominal pain and bloating may not be cause enough to see a specialist. However, if this persists following nearly every meal or is accompanied by nausea or painful bowel movements, inform your physician, as they may refer you to a gastroenterologist for further tests.

Note: Read "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 render you unable to swallow. Frequent or intensifying esophageal pain or difficulty swallowing may require a gastroenterologist to conduct an upper endoscopy to determine the cause and begin treatment.

7. Unexplained Weight Loss

Dieting and exercise typically lead to gradual weight loss. Experiencing a sudden, rapid drop, however—such as 5 percent within six to 12 months—can indicate an underlying condition such as chronic pancreatitis, cirrhosis, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, or peptic ulcer. 

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