A gastroenterologist is a physician who specializes in treating the disorders of the digestive system. This includes all the organs that span the alimentary canal from the mouth to the anus as well as the liver. Gastroenterologists must undergo training programs and certification in internal medicine before pursuing a sub-specialty/doctor in gastroenterology. In addition to the study of digestive physiology and diseases, gastroenterologists are trained to perform many simple procedures like endoscopy which are used in diagnosis and treatment.
A gastroenterologist may be doctor of care for people with chronic or serious gastrointestinal (GI) diseases. In most cases, however, people prefer to consult a gastroenterologist if a digestive problem is beyond the scope of practice of a family doctor, internist, or primary care physician.
Gastroenterology is the comprehensive and detailed study of the function and diseases of the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, colon, rectum, pancreas, gallbladder, bile ducts, and liver. It involves an in-depth detail understanding of digestion, nutrient absorption, gastrointestinal problems, and the main function of the liver in digestion.
The primary aim of the gastroenterologist is to identify and treat conditions affecting the normal function of the digestive tract, both common and uncommon which include:
- Anorectal fistulas, fissures, or abscesses
- Celiac disease (CD)
- Crohn’s disease
- Colon polyps
- Colorectal cancer
- Diverticular disease
- Fatty liver disease
- Gallbladder diseases (such as gallstones, cholecystitis, or gallbladder cancer)
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Hiatal hernia
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Liver cancer
- Peptic ulcer
- Stomach cancer
- Ulcerative colitis
- Viral hepatitis.
Symptoms that may warrant an investigation by a gastroenterologist:
- Abnormal stool color
- Anal leakage
- Bloody stools (hematochezia)
- Chronic abdominal pain or cramping
- Chronic constipation or diarrhea
- Chronic heartburn and indigestion
- Chronic nausea or vomiting
- Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
- Excessive bloating or gas
- Loss of appetite
- Loss of bowel control
- Pain when swallowing (odynophagia)
- Rectal bleeding
- Sudden changes in blood habit
- Unexplained weight loss
- Yellowing of the eyes and/or skin (jaundice).
The diagnostic tools used by a gastroenterologist are extensive and include lab tests, radiologic studies, directing imaging tests, and tissue studies.The tools used are:
- Abdominal X-ray
- Abdominal ultrasound
- Barium enema
- Barium swallow
- Capsule endoscopy
- Colonoscopy (including virtual colonoscopy)
- Computed tomography (CT) scan or the abdomen, pancreas, or liver and biliary tract
- Exploratory laparoscopy
- Liver biopsy
- Upper GI endoscopy.
Dr. Sharad A. Deshmukh is a Consultant Gastroenterologist and Hepatologist in Nashik Maharashtra, where he practices at several hospitals in and around Nashik. He is associated with the Apollo Hospital (Nashik), Prayas Hospital (Malegaon), Pathak Hospital (Sangamner), Shri Vighnaharta Hospital (Dhule), Jagdish Hospital (Shahada).