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It’s not until someone suffers from a stomach complaint that the field of Gastroenterology comes to mind. However, not everyone knows how diverse this subspecialty of medicine really is or when to see a gastroenterologist.

While many common complaints can be resolved with a simple visit to a family practitioner, some issues need further investigation by someone who is specialized in the field.

What is Gastroenterology?

Gastroenterology is a specialized segment of medicine that focuses on the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of digestive disorders. There are several parts to the digestive system, which starts at the esophagus and ends at the rectum. In between, there are several moving parts of the GI tract, all of which can develop both minor and major health issues.

What is a Gastroenterologist?

There are many different disorders that can affect the gastrointestinal tract.

Doctors who work in this specialty are gastroenterologists. They specialize in treating diseases and dysfunction of the stomach, gallbladder, liver, and pancreas, as well as the upper and lower colon.

To become a gastroenterologist, a four-year bachelor’s degree must be completed. Then, at least four years of medical school. Candidates also need to complete their residency at an accredited hospital prior to entering their fellowship.

This specialized training includes endoscopic examinations. Endoscopy is a minimally invasive procedure that utilizes a scope to visualize the upper and lower gastrointestinal tract.

Diseases of the Gastrointestinal Tract

Aside from benign causes of abdominal pain, some of the most common areas of diagnosis and treatment include:

  • hepatobiliary issues
  • Celiac disease
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Gastro reflux disease (GERD)
  • Gastric and colon cancers
  • Barrett’s esophagus

When to See a Gastroenterologist

While many abdominal complaints clear up on their own, so do warrant further investigation. It’s suggested that everyone over the age of 50 sees a gastroenterologist annually for a colonoscopy. A colonoscopy is a procedure that looks for polyps, pre-cancerous and cancerous lesions within the colon.

In addition, someone may be referred to a gastroenterologist if they experience ongoing reflux or heartburn and rectal bleeding. While hemorrhoids are usually the causes of rectal bleeding, it could signify a more sinister problem such as anal or rectal cancer.