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There are various reason a patient might need to see a gastroenterologists. The digestive system, also referred to as the gut or the gastrointestinal tract, is as important as any other system in the body, and should be given the same level of care as others.

There are so many diseases peculiar to the system and symptoms should not be treated lackadaisically.

Once you notice any changes or discomfort in your digestive system, it is recommended that you report to your primary caregiver first.

In most cases, the symptoms can be managed by your family doctor, but in some cases, they may refer you to a gastroenterologist for proper and comprehensive care.


Who is a Gastroenterologist?

From the name, you should be able to deduce that a gastroenterologist has a lot to do with the gastrointestinal tract.

To be exact, a gastroenterologist is a physician who is specially trained and has had experience in managing the diseases of the gastrointestinal tract including the esophagus, stomach, intestines, colon, rectum, and related organs like the liver and pancreas.

The training of gastroenterologists is often internal and involves more than 5 years of additional education in internal medicine and gastroenterology after medical school.

After their years of training and practical experience, these specialists are adept at so many methods that can be used to alleviate discomfort and manage the problems of the gastrointestinal tract.

They use a number of treatment options like medications, lifestyle modifications, and some special procedures like colonoscopy, endoscopy and others to treat patients suffering from any gastrointestinal problem.


Reasons You Should See a Gastroenterologist

Most people panic or, at best, are apprehensive when their doctor mentions the need to see a specialist for any health condition.

As much as a recommendation to see a gastroenterologist may indicate that your gastrointestinal problem may be a little more complicated than the normal disturbances, this is no reason to be horrified.

Your doctor may recommend a visit to a gastroenterologist due to a number of reasons that are generally in your interest. Here are 12 major reasons why you should see a gastroenterologist.


1. Heartburn

When you have a feeling of burning in the chest region or throat, you may be experiencing what is known as acid reflux or, in common parlance, heartburn.

This experience is often a result of an abnormality whereby acid from the stomach moves back up into the esophagus, which is the important tube that connects the mouth to the stomach.

Actually, heartburn is commonly experienced by many healthy people. It really may not be a sign of any serious GI problem if they are not frequent.

If, however, symptoms occur more than twice a week, the condition may be indicative of a more serious problem known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). In this case, there will need to see a gastroenterologist.


2. Lactose Intolerance

Lactose is a sugar found in milk. Lactose intolerance is a condition whereby some people experience uncomfortable symptoms once they take milk or dairy products.

The condition develops when the body is unable to produce enough lactase (a protein that helps to break down milk products) to fully digest an even small portion of milk and dairy products.

The symptoms may occur about 2 hours after taking food substances containing milk and its products like yoghurt and cheese. Discomfort may be in the form of bloating or diarrhoea, gas, and belly pain.

The severity of the symptoms will vary, but they will ultimately cause a lot of discomforts.


3. Rectal Bleeding

Rectal bleeding is one reason that can trigger fear and anxiety in some patients. When blood is dripping from the anus or faeces are blood-stained, it is understandable that someone may panic, but there are a number of causes and many will demand the attention of a gastroenterologist.

There are quite a number of GI problems that may result to rectal bleeding such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), anal cancer, colon cancer and polyps, Crohn’s disease, diverticulosis, as well as angiodysplasia and related diseases.


4. Sudden Change in Bowel Habit

As an adult, you must have understood your bowel habit. Normally, some minor factors may trigger sudden changes, but normalcy will generally be restored after few days.

The use of behind-the-counter medications can equally improve symptoms. If, however, the change in bowel habit continues after a long while and does not respond to simple medication or the prescription of your physician, there may need to book an appointment with a gastroenterologist.

Note that the changes we are emphasizing may be in the form of lack of bowel movement or increase in the frequency of bowel movement. Such sudden changes should be taken seriously if they persist.


5. When You Suspect Gallstone(s)

Gallstones are tiny nuggets that form in the gallbladder and a gastroenterologist is the best person that can help a patient that has gallstone(s). In some cases, there is only one large stone, while in other cases there may be multiple stones of varying sizes.

Gallstones form due to imbalances in the substances that form the digestive liquid, bile. There are currently no explanations for the imbalances, but gallstones are more common in obese people, aged people, and pregnant women.

Also, if you have had a gallstone or gallstones removed on previous occasions, you may be at risk of another and should be mindful of any suspicious pain. Sudden pain on the right side of the abdomen may indicate gallstone.


6. Celiac Disease

This is a genetic condition that is not limited to the digestive system but is rooted in the immune system. When sufferers of celiac disease ingest substances that contain gluten (a protein that is present in barley, rye, wheat, as well as in some medicines, vitamins, and supplements), their immune systems respond by damaging the small intestines.

This is quite different from gluten sensitivity. Though they share similar symptoms, gluten sensitivity does not damage the small intestine, but the celiac disease does. Once you notice that your body reacts negatively to gluten, it is essential that you see a gastroenterologist.


7. When You Suspect Ulcer

Stomach ulcers are common, but ulcer of the mouth is another condition that can also be very distressing.

Also known as aphthous stomatitis, mouth ulcer is one of the extra-intestinal symptoms that accompany inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and will be resolved once the IBD is under control. Even in the case of stomach ulcer, a gastroenterologist will be very helpful.


8. When you have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Generally, Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS is a condition that is characterized by a number of symptoms including abdominal pain, abdominal cramping, bloating, diarrhoea, and constipation.

IBS actually does not lead to any permanent damage or serious health condition, but it can reduce the quality of life significantly.


9. Loss of Appetite and Unexplained Weight Loss

Loss of appetite is associated with so many diseases and health conditions. This is also true for unexplained weight loss. Once you have any of or a combination of both, as well as any problem with your digestive system, there is an urgent reason to see a gastroenterologist.


10. Bloating and Distended Stomach

Bloating is one of the commonest symptoms that accompany some GI problems. In instances of lack of bowel movement or excess gas, the stomach will likely swell and become distended. This is enough reason to see a gastroenterologist.


11. Dark Urine

Occasionally, the colour of urine can be dark. But if they are really dark and you notice some form of intense pain in the back or groin, you may need to see a gastroenterologist.

This is because it may be a sign of kidney stones or urinary tract infection.


12. For Prevention of Colon Cancer

Due to the dangers of colon cancer and the susceptibility of old people to the condition, it is recommended that adults who are 50 years and above take a screening known as colonoscopy to detect colon cancer early and treat it appropriately.

Gastroenterologists perform this process and there is enough reason to see one if you are 50 years and above and have not been screened in the last ten years.

Gastroenterologists are adequately trained to cater for the special needs of patients suffering from any gastrointestinal problems.

There are several reasons to see one and we have discussed some major ones here. Your doctor will probably recommend you to one when the need arises.

Contact Dr Deetlefs

Room 109 Mediclinic Milnerton
Cnr Koeberg & Racecourse Roads
Cape Town
Tel: 021 551 8678

Monday – Friday: 8 AM to 4 PM

Additional address for Endoscopic Procedures:

Dr Eduan Deetlefs Inc
The Park Building, (opp, Vincent Pallotti Hospital)
Suite 304, 3rd Floor,
Park Road
Tel: 021 202 0626

Email: info @ gidoc.co.za

Vincent Pallotti Office hours:
8am to 3pm, 
Fridays:  Procedure day – in rooms scope facility 7am to 4pm.

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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.