Gastroenterologists - often called "GI specialists"" - are medical doctors who specialize in the health of the digestive system and gastrointestinal tract. After completing medical school, gastroenterologists undergo an additional 5-6 years of specialized education. A few of the diseases and conditions that they manage include:

Ulcerative Colitis

Crohn's disease


Cancer of the esophagus

Colon polyps (While often benign at first, these can develop into cancer)

Your primary care physician may refer you to a GI specialist to receive medical advice and treatment for a number of conditions, including:

Acid reflux


Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)




Gastroesophageal reflux disease (gerd)

Lactose intolerance


For conditions of the liver, you may be referred to a herpetologists, a GI doctor special expertise in liver conditions.

You will want to see a GI doctor for any conditions related to the digestive or GI tracts, which encompass the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, colon, rectum, pancreas, gallbladder, bile ducts, and liver.

Your primary care doctor may refer you to a gastroenterologist if you're experiencing abdominal pain, chronic diarrhea or constipation, heartburn, acid reflux, bloating, black bowel movements, rectal bleeding, sudden and unexplainable weight loss, having difficulty swallowing, and more.

Starting at the age of 50, it is also a good idea to start getting screened routinely for rectal and colon cancer with an endoscopic procedure known as a colonoscopy.

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Colorectal cancer is a form of cancer that affects the colon or rectum, which are located at the lower end of the digestive tract. Early cases may begin as noncancerous polyps. These polyps often have no symptoms, but can be detected by screening. For this reason, regular colon cancer screenings are highly recommended. Particularly in individuals over 50.

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A colonoscopy is a type of endoscopy used to detect abnormalities in the large intestine (colon) and rectum. This is performed by inserting a long, flexible tube, known as a colonoscope, into the rectum. A tiny video camera at the tip of the tube allows a doctor to see inside the entire colon.

This tube also allows doctors to remove polyps and other abnormal growths and take tissue samples (biopsies).

Colonoscopies are a useful in preventing colorectal cancer and removing colon polyps before they turn into cancer. In addition to being a useful tool for colon cancer screening, they may be used to look inside your large intestine to find the causes of things like abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, or changes in bowel habits. They can help doctors diagnose inflammatory bowel disease and differentiate between Chron's disease and ulcerative colitis. A doctor may also schedule a follow-up exam if any polyps are removed during the procedure.

If you're age 50 or older and at average risk of colon cancer and have no family history of colon cancer or other risk factors, your doctor may recommend a colonoscopy screening every 10 years (or sometimes sooner).

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In most cases, patients are sedated for the procedure and don't feel anything. Afterward, it is not uncommon to experience some cramping, bloating, passing of gas, and even some blood in your stool. If you bleed more than just a little or experience abdominal pain, fever, or chills, call your doctor right away.

Celiac disease is a condition in which your body cannot digest gluten. When people with celiac disease eat gluten, the immune system misfires and ends up inadvertently damaging the small intestine - which can lead to a host of adverse conditions.

Celiac disease is often diagnosed through blood test.

Serology is a common blood test that looks for elevated levels of certain antibody proteins within blood serum. Elevated antibody levels cold indicate an immune reaction to gluten.

Doctors also use genetic testing for human leukocyte antigens, the presence of which can be used to rule out celiac disease.

If the results of these test suggest that you could have celiac disease, your doctor will likely then order either endoscopy or capsule endoscopy for further testing.

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Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis are both conditions that fall under the umbrella of inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD. While they have a lot in common (namely long-term inflammation of your digestive system), they also have some key differences.

Ulcerative colitis only affects your large intestine (colon), whereas Crohn's disease can occur anywhere from the mouth to the anus. With Crohn's disease, there are generally healthy parts of the intestine between the inflamed areas, while ulcerative colitis is one continuous inflammation of the colon. Lastly, ulcerative colitis only affects the innermost lining of the colon, while Crohn's disease can affect all layers of the bowel walls.

Both conditions can be treated and managed by a GI specialist.

The only definitive way to diagnose Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis is through an endoscopic procedure, which involves inserting a small camera down your throat aboard a long, flexible tube - allowing doctors to examine firsthand any inflammation of the digestive tract.

Common endoscopic procedures include colonoscopies, upper endoscopies, sigmoidoscopies, and capsule endoscopies. Before the more invasive procedure, however, your doctor may run a series of tests to rule out other options. These may include a physical exam, blood tests, stool samples, and imaging tests such as x-rays, CT scans, or MRI.

The exact cause of IBD is not known. One possible cause is a malfunction of the immune system. Heredity seems to be a contributing factor, as it is more common among people with a family history of the disease.

Other common risk factors include:

Age: Most people affected are diagnosed before the age of 30. However, some people don't develop the disease until their 50s or 60s.

Family history: If you have a close relative with the disease, such as a parent or sibling, you are at higher risk of developing the condition.

Smoking cigarettes: Smoking is the most important controllable risk factor for developing Crohn's disease. Smoking cigarettes may actually help to prevent ulcerative colitis, but its overall harm to your health greatly outweighs any benefit. Plus, quitting smoking can improve the general health of your digestive tract among other benefits.

Race or ethnicity: While it can occur in any race, it is more common among white people.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications: Taking medications such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, etc.), naproxen sodium (Aleve), diclofenac sodium, and others may increase the risk of developing IBD and can worse the disease in people already affected by it.

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