Although most people may not enjoy discussing their stomach problems to their friends or family, it is important to be transparent about these issues to your doctor, as you are definitely not alone. In fact, according to the CDC, there are more than 22.4 million visits to the doctor for diseases of the digestive system as the primary diagnosis each year.
The bottom line: Don’t shy away from discussing any digestive issues you may be experiencing, as some of these symptoms may require immediate medical attention. Problems in your digestive system range in severity and seriousness, making it necessary to get evaluated by a specialist if you are experiencing these symptoms.
What Does a Gastroenterologist Do?
There are many gut-related issues that a Gastroenterologist can help solve. Gastroenterologists (also called GI doctors) are physicians who are trained to treat stomach issues in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and liver. If you’re experiencing a stomach issue, such as heartburn, inflammation, or digestive trouble, you may be referred to a Gastroenterologist by your primary care physician, as there may be an underlying condition manifesting these symptoms. The first step is to make an appointment with your primary care doctor and tell them all the symptoms you are experiencing. If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, your primary care doctor may refer you to a gastroenterologist
Reason #1: Frequent Heartburn
Occasional heartburn is not a cause for concern. However, severe, chronic heartburn that occurs more than twice a week should be evaluated by a doctor. Frequent heartburn could be an indicator that you have GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease). GERD occurs when your stomach acid goes into the esophagus, causing a burning sensation. If you are diagnosed with acid reflux or GERD, medicine may be prescribed to alleviate your discomfort.
Reason #2: Unexplained Weight Loss
If you are losing weight without any real changes to your lifestyle or diet, there may be an underlying health issue present. For example, Crohn’s disease and Celiac disease may cause sudden, unexplained weight loss. There are also other serious conditions, such as certain cancers, that may cause weight loss.
Reason #3: Chronic Diarrhea
Typically, diarrhea is short-lived. If you have diarrhea that lasts more than a couple of days, your doctor may refer you to a specialist, as it may be a sign that something more serious is going on.
There are many causes of diarrhea, including:
- – Bacteria and parasitic infections
- – Viruses
- – Food sensitives
- – Medications, such antibiotics
- – Contaminated food or water
- – Diseases such as Crohn’s disease
If you develop a fever above 102 F, have bloody or black stool or become dehydrated, it is also recommended to seek medical care immediately.
Reason #4: Frequent Stomach Pain
While occasional stomach discomfort is normal, experiencing frequent pain or bloating daily or weekly may mean there is an underlying condition. Your Gastroenterologist may ask you to keep a food diary to see if there is something in your diet that is responsible for the stomach discomfort.
Reason #5: Difficulty Swallowing
If you are experiencing painful or difficulty swallowing (also called dysphagia), a gastroenterologist may schedule an upper endoscopy to pinpoint the source of your ailment and then determine the correct treatment plan.
Reason #6: You are Over Age 50
If you are 50 and have an average risk for colon cancer, a Gastroenterologist will likely want you to undergo a colonoscopy to screen for colon cancer. If you are a man or woman age 50 or older, it is good preventative care to get screened regularly. If you have a relative that has had colon cancer, a gastroenterologist may want to see you before age 50. Consult with your doctor regarding your family history to determine a schedule that is best for you.
A Gastroenterologist has in-depth knowledge of the gut and the conditions that may affect it. After your patient consultation, you may be asked to undergo an exam, such as a blood test, colonoscopy or endoscopy, to determine the diagnosis.
If you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms, the first step is scheduling an appointment with your primary care provider so they can evaluate your symptoms, and if needed, order a physical, blood test or other lab tests to be completed before referring you to a Gastroenterologist. If you’re in Connecticut and would like to find a doctor near you, you can locate a board-certified PACT primary care physician using our searchable list here.