Gastroenterology is the branch of medicine focused on the digestive system and its disorders. Diseases affecting the gastrointestinal tract, which include the organs from mouth into anus, along the alimentary canal, are the focus of this speciality. Physicians practicing in this field are called gastroenterologists.
They have usually completed about eight years of pre-medical and medical education, a year-long internship (if this is not a part of the residency), three years of an internal medicine residency, and two to three years in the gastroenterology fellowship. Gastroenterologists perform a number of diagnostic and therapeutic procedures including colonoscopy, endoscopy, endoscopic retrograde cholangiancreatography (ERCP), endoscopic ultrasound and liver biopsy. Some gastroenterology trainees will complete a “fourth-year” (although this is often their seventh year of graduate medical education) in transplant hepatology, advanced endoscopy, inflammatory bowel disease, motility or other topics.
Hepatology, or hepatobiliary medicine, encompasses the study of the liver, pancreas, and biliary tree, while proctology encompasses the fields of anus and rectum diseases. They are traditionally considered sub-specialties of gastroenterology.
If you have constant complaints to your family doctor about digestive problems such as frequent abdominal pain, nausea, or heartburn then something is affecting your digestive system. Your doctor may recommend some lifestyle changes, or treat the condition with over-the-counter or prescription drugs to prevent your symptoms from worsening. Before referring you to a gastroenterologist, your General Practitioner (GP) will likely examine you first. They may in some cases order specialised tests, such as an abdominal scan or blood tests. This is sometimes enough to pinpoint the condition and recommend a treatment. If the problem persists however, your doctor may recommend you consult a gastroenterologist.
The symptoms of a Gastroenterology disease vary but they include:
- Abdominal pain and discomfort
- Bleeding in the digestive tract
- Constipation and Diarrhoea
- Difficulty Swallowing
- Severe and persistent Heartburn/indigestion
- Stomach upset, nausea, vomiting
- Unexplained weight loss
A gastroenterologist is a physician who specializes in diseases of the digestive system, also called the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Gastroenterologists have extensive training in the diagnosis and treatment of conditions that affect the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine (colon), and biliary system (e.g., liver, pancreas, gallbladder, bile ducts). Gastroenterology is a subspecialty of internal medicine.
Gastroenterologists have a thorough understanding of how food moves through the digestive tract (called motility) and the physical and chemical break down of food (digestion), including the absorption of nutrients and the removal of waste products. Gastroenterologists also focus on the digestive function of the liver.