What Exactly Is a Gastroenterologist? 

What Exactly Is a Gastroenterologist? 

Your digestive system is probably one of those things you only notice when it’s not working correctly. And even then, any issues you’re experiencing are likely embarrassing to talk about. As a result, many people end up suffering through digestive problems in silence. But by ignoring your symptoms, you could end up experiencing serious complications.

Symptoms of digestive problems and discomfort may include heartburn, bloating and consistent abdominal pain such as cramping and constipation. The good news is that many digestive difficulties can be solved by simple lifestyle changes or medication under the guidance of a doctor. That’s why, if you are one of the 70 million people who suffer from digestive diseases, it might be time start taking your gut health seriously and see a gastroenterologist.

A gastroenterologist is a doctor who specializes in the management of diseases of your intestinal tract and liver. They are experts in conditions that affect the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, liver, pancreas, gallbladder and bile ducts. Here are a few conditions a gastroenterologist can help control:

  • Reflux: It’s estimated that nearly 60 percent of adults suffer from some form of acid reflux, whether it’s the occasional heartburn or the more serious GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). Reflux feels like a hot or burning sensation starting in the stomach and rising up through the chest. Treatment of reflux can include over-the-counter medication and changes in diet, while severe cases of GERD may involve surgery to tighten the muscle between the stomach and esophagus.
  • Ulcers: Stomach ulcers are sores in the lining of the small intestine and the stomach. They can be caused by infections, long-term use of certain medicines, excess acid in the stomach and Zollinger-Ellison syndrome, which is a rare disease that makes the body produce too much stomach acid. Stomach ulcers can be easily treated, usually by prescription medication.
  • Lactose intolerance: Those who suffer from lactose intolerance have the inability to fully digest the sugar in milk. Symptoms include diarrhea, gas and bloating after consuming dairy products. To relieve discomfort, you can avoid consuming large amounts of dairy products or drink lactose-reduced dairy products. See a gastroenterologist if symptoms persist and it hinders your quality of life.
  • Constipation: Americans spend $725 million a year on laxatives. What constitutes regular bowel movements varies from person to person, but if you see a change in frequency that disrupts your usual pattern, talk to a doctor. Simple changes in your diet, such as consuming more fiber, is often a simple fix for constipation.

Make sure you check your insurance coverage before scheduling an appointment with a specialist like a gastroenterologist. Your coverage might require you to get a referral through your primary care physician first. And if you’re searching for a gastroenterologist, you can use Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan’s Find a Doctor tool.

If you’d like to learn more about digestive health, you might like these blogs from A Healthier Michigan:

Photo credit: IAEAimagebank

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