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Introduction


Gain insight into the role of a gastroenterologist, a medical specialist who focuses on diagnosing and treating conditions related to the digestive system, including the esophagus, stomach, intestines, liver, gallbladder, and pancreas.

Learn about the signs and symptoms that may indicate it’s time to consult a gastroenterologist, a specialist in digestive system disorders.

Common Gastrointestinal Issues:

Common gastrointestinal issues refer to a variety of disorders affecting the digestive system, these issues can range from mild and temporary to chronic and debilitating.

Some of the most common gastrointestinal disorders include:

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
A chronic condition in which stomach acid frequently flows back into the esophagus, causing heartburn, chest pain, and sometimes, difficulty swallowing. If left untreated, GERD can lead to complications such as esophagitis, Barrett’s esophagus, and esophageal cancer.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS):
A functional gastrointestinal disorder characterized by abdominal pain, bloating, and changes in bowel habits, such as constipation, diarrhea, or alternating between the two. The exact cause of IBS is unknown, but it is thought to involve a combination of factors, including genetics, gut sensitivity, and stress.

 

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

A group of chronic inflammatory conditions affecting the digestive tract, primarily Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhea (sometimes bloody), fatigue, and weight loss.

IBD can lead to complications like intestinal blockages, abscesses, and an increased risk of colon cancer.

Peptic Ulcers
Open sores that develop on the lining of the stomach or the first part of the small intestine (duodenum). Common symptoms include a burning or gnawing pain in the abdomen, nausea, and indigestion. Ulcers are often caused by infection with Helicobacter pylori bacteria or long-term use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

Celiac Disease
An autoimmune disorder in which the ingestion of gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye, triggers an immune response that damages the lining of the small intestine. This can lead to malabsorption of nutrients, causing symptoms such as diarrhea, abdominal pain, bloating, and weight loss.

Gallstones
Solid particles that form in the gallbladder or bile ducts, often due to an imbalance in the substances that make up bile. Gallstones can cause symptoms like abdominal pain, nausea, and jaundice if they block the flow of bile.

Hemorrhoids
Swollen veins in the lower rectum or anus that can cause discomfort, itching, and bleeding. Hemorrhoids can result from increased pressure in the rectum due to factors such as constipation, pregnancy, or straining during bowel movements.

Diverticular Disease
A condition in which small pouches, called diverticula, form in the lining of the colon. These pouches can become inflamed or infected, leading to diverticulitis, which can cause abdominal pain, fever, and changes in bowel habits.

These are just a few examples of the many gastrointestinal issues that can affect individuals. If you experience any persistent or concerning symptoms, it is essential to consult with a healthcare professional or gastroenterologist for proper evaluation and treatment.

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Signs
And Symptoms of When to See A Gastroenterologist

There are several signs and symptoms that may indicate it’s time to consult a gastroenterologist, a specialist in diagnosing and treating digestive system disorders.

If you experience any of the following persistent or severe symptoms, consider making an appointment with a gastroenterologist:

  • Abdominal pain or discomfort: Persistent or severe pain in the abdomen that does not improve or worsen over time could be a sign of an underlying gastrointestinal issue.
  • Heartburn or acid reflux: Frequent heartburn or acid reflux, especially if it interferes with your daily life, may be a sign of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or another digestive condition.
  • Changes in bowel habits: Persistent diarrhea, constipation, or alternating between the two, particularly when accompanied by abdominal pain, may indicate conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
  • Rectal bleeding: Blood in the stool or on toilet paper after wiping could be a sign of hemorrhoids, diverticular disease, or more serious conditions like colorectal polyps or cancer.
  • Difficulty swallowing: If you experience consistent difficulty swallowing or a feeling that food is getting stuck in your throat or chest, it could be a sign of an esophageal issue, such as a stricture or achalasia.
  • Unexplained weight loss: Losing weight without making any significant changes to your diet or exercise routine may indicate a digestive disorder, such as celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, or even cancer.
  • Nausea and vomiting: Persistent or unexplained nausea and vomiting, especially if accompanied by weight loss, could be a sign of an underlying gastrointestinal problem.
  • Jaundice: Yellowing of the skin and eyes may indicate a liver or gallbladder issue, such as hepatitis or gallstones.
  • Persistent bloating or gas: Excessive bloating or gas that does not improve with dietary changes could be a sign of a digestive disorder, such as lactose intolerance, IBS, or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).
  • Family history: If you have a family history of gastrointestinal diseases, such as colorectal cancer or inflammatory bowel disease, you may need to see a gastroenterologist for screening and monitoring.

It’s important to note that these symptoms can be caused by various factors, and some may not necessarily indicate a severe issue.

However, if you experience any of these symptoms persistently or severely, it’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional or gastroenterologist to determine the cause and receive appropriate treatment.

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Diagnosing Gastrointestinal Disorders

 

Gastroenterologists use a variety of diagnostic tools and tests to identify and assess gastrointestinal issues. Some of the most common diagnostic tools include:

Medical history and physical examination: The gastroenterologist will take a detailed medical history and perform a physical examination to gather information about your symptoms, lifestyle, and any relevant family history.

 Blood tests: Blood tests can help diagnose conditions like anemia, liver disease, or infections. They may also be used to screen for celiac disease or monitor inflammation levels in patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

Stool tests: Stool samples can be analyzed for the presence of blood, parasites, bacteria, or other abnormalities that may indicate a gastrointestinal issue.

 Imaging studies: Imaging techniques such as X-rays, computed tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and ultrasound can provide detailed images of the gastrointestinal tract and surrounding organs, helping to identify abnormalities or inflammation.

Upper endoscopy (gastroscopy): This procedure involves inserting a flexible tube with a camera and light (endoscope) through the mouth and into the esophagus, stomach, and upper part of the small intestine (duodenum). It allows the gastroenterologist to visually examine these areas and take biopsies if necessary.

Colonoscopy: A colonoscopy uses a similar endoscope to examine the large intestine (colon) and the rectum. The gastroenterologist can take biopsies, remove polyps, or treat bleeding during the procedure.

Flexible sigmoidoscopy: This procedure is similar to a colonoscopy but only examines the lower part of the colon (sigmoid colon) and the rectum.

Capsule endoscopy: This non-invasive procedure involves swallowing a small, pill-sized camera that takes pictures of the gastrointestinal tract as it passes through. It is particularly useful for examining the small intestine, which can be difficult to reach with traditional endoscopes.

Liver biopsy: A small sample of liver tissue is obtained using a needle or laparoscopic procedure to diagnose liver disease or assess the severity of liver inflammation and fibrosis.

These are just a few examples of the diagnostic tools and tests used by gastroenterologists. The specific tests and procedures required will depend on the patient’s symptoms, medical history, and suspected gastrointestinal issue.

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Get In Touch

If you would like to book an appointment with a gastrointestinal (GI) specialist or would simply like more information on a particular GI topic, don’t hesitate to use our online booking form
or call Dr. Deetlefs at 021 551 867. 

DISCLAIMER: PLEASE READ CAREFULLY

The information on this website is to provide general guidance. In no way does any of the information provided reflect definitive medical advice and self-diagnoses should not be made based on information obtained online. It is important to consult a Gastroenterologist or medical doctor regarding ANY and ALL symptoms or signs including, but not limited to: abdominal pain, haemorrhoids or anal / rectal bleeding as it may a sign of a serious illness or condition. A thorough consultation and examination should ALWAYS be performed for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan. Be sure to call a physician or call our office today and schedule a consultation.

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© Dr. Eduan Deetlefs, Registered Gastroenterologist, GI Doc Cape Town

Our website information is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult a doctor about your specific condition. Only a trained physician can determine an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment.