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What is Gastroenterology?

Doctors and Medical Specialties

Gastroenterology (or gastrology) is a wide and specialized field of medicine concerned with the digestive system. Gastroenterologists study, diagnose, treat, and manage conditions of the stomach, intestines, esophagus, liver, pancreas, and gallbladder. Gastroenterologists are qualified with a medical school degree and a four to six year residency.

Gastroenterology specialists see patients most often for gastroesophageal reflux disease (GeRD), GI cancer, pancreatic cancer, hepatitis, cirrhosis, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), colitis, Crohn's disease, and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Symptoms of diseases that are caused by digestive problems include constipation, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, heartburn, indigestion, rectal bleeding, weight loss, and abdominal pain.

Doctors of gastroenterology do not perform surgery to treat diseases, but they may be board certified to perform biopsies and endoscopic examinations. Gastroenterologists use endoscopy, utrasound, blood and bodily fluids tests, and surgery to make a diagnosis. It is often possible to treat patients during endoscopy where necessary, by using the endoscope (a long, flexible tube inserted through the mouth into various digestive regions) to insert tools for removing stones and growths, destroying cysts, inserting a stent, injecting cancer medications, or inserting a nerve block.

When making the choice of a gastroenterology doctor or group, ask a primary care physician or healthcare professional to make some recommendations. Schedule interviews with prospective doctors and keep a checklist of questions and things to look for:

  • Is the doctor covered by your medical insurance?
  • What types of procedures will be covered?
  • What are the doctor's qualifications?
  • What types of procedures is he/she qualified to perform?
  • A physician who performs procedures often has a higher success rate than a doctor who is less experienced.
  • Do you find office staff friendly and accommodating?
  • Are office hours convenient to your schedule?
  • What are the doctor's policies for scheduling appointments and emergencies?
  • Who will you see if your doctor is not available?
  • Will the doctor be offended if you seek a second opinion?
  • Do you feel the doctor is thorough in explanations and treatment options?

One of the most important aspects of choosing a physician in gastroenterology or any discipline is finding a good doctor-patient relationship. Establishing a good rapport and maintaining an open dialogue is the first step in finding a doctor who will provide exceptional care.

Related topics: Internal Medicine, Bariatric Surgery

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