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Gastroenterology & Hepatology Specialist Doctor

Gastroenterology Specialist Doctor

A gastroenterology specialist doctor or gastroenterologist plays a vital role in treating health problems related to the digestive tract.

Gastroenterology is a branch of medicine that focuses on studying the functions and disorders that occur in the digestive system, including the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine (colon), liver, pancreas, bile, rectum, and anus.

To become a gastroenterologist, one must master the physiology of the organs in the digestive system. He must understand the function and movement of each organ in digesting the substances that enter and pass through the body.

A candidate who wants to become a gastroenterologist is required to undergo Internal Medicine studies for approximately 3 years, after graduating as a general practitioner. Then, it will take 2-3 years to undertake the gastroenterology specialist education and training programme.

During the training programme, the candidate will receive endoscopy training, which is an examination using a thin tube along with a camera to view the upper gastrointestinal tract. He/she will also undergo training to perform the sigmoidoscopy and colonoscopy.

Some gastroenterologists pursue the sub-specialty field of haepatology and haepatobiliary, which focuses on dealing with problems of the pancreas, liver and bile duct.

About the Gastrointestinal System 

The human digestive system is divided into two groups: the organs of the gastrointestinal tract and the accessory digestive organs.

The digestive tract of the human body is a long canal of organs from the mouth to the anus. This canal/tract is called the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, which functions to digest, break down and absorb food substances into the blood. The internal organs in the digestive tract include the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, and anus. The accessory digestive organs include the tongue, teeth, gallbladder, salivary glands, liver, and also the pancreas.

Several organs play an important role in the digestive system of the human body:

  • Mouth
    Any food that goes into the mouth will be bitten, chewed, and crushed with the help of saliva which makes food softer and easier to swallow. In the mouth, there are accessory digestive organs such as the teeth and tongue to help smoothen and push food down the throat.
  • Throat and esophagus
    The throat (pharynx) will be the first place that food passes after leaving the mouth. Then, the food enters the esophagus, which has an epiglottis. When swallowing food and drink, the epiglottis protects the respiratory tract.
  • Stomach
    It is a place for processing food – it produces enzymes and acids to break down food. The stomach will turn the food into a semi-solid, paste-like form known as chyme. To keep food that has entered the stomach from returning to the esophagus, there is a particular muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter which is located between the stomach and the end of the esophagus.
  • Small intestine
    Chymus or chyme in the stomach will be pushed into the small intestine to be digested. The small intestine in the human body consists of the duodenum (12-finger length intestine), jejunum (second part of the small intestine), and ileum which digests food through intestinal peristalsis. With the help of enzymes released by the pancreas and bile, the small intestine breaks down food and absorbs food nutrients.
  • Large intestine (colon)
    Chymus’ nutrients that has been absorbed in the small intestine, will leave digestive remains. In the large intestine, this digestive waste will be processed. Water and minerals will be absorbed in the colon, and unused waste will be pushed into the rectum to be excreted through the anus.

Diseases Treated by a Gastroenterologist

There are various digestive-related health problems that can affect a person. A gastroenterologist has the expertise of handling health problems that affect the digestive tract, interfere with the process of absorption of nutrients, and disrupt the excretion of digestive remains. Below are some diseases and health problems that can be treated by a gastroenterology specialist doctor:

  • Gastric ulcer
  • Gastric Acid Disease or GERD
  • Chronic gastroparesis
  • Inflamed Pancreas
  • Digestive tract tumors or cancers that occur in the colon, esophagus, pancreas, anus, or stomach
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Celiac and food intolerances
  • Appendicitis
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Bloating
  • Constipation
  • Heartburn
  • Gastrointestinal infections caused by fungi, bacteria, or viruses
  • Malabsorption, malnutrition

Medical Procedures Performed by a Gastroenterologist

As someone who has a deep understanding of the digestive system in the human body, a gastroenterologist can not only diagnose and treat a disease, but can also prescribe preventive measures to keep your digestive system healthy.

The gastroenterologist will first provide a consultation to find out the health complaints, symptoms, and family medical history of the patient.

To give a proper diagnosis, a gastroenterologist will perform a physical examination and additional tests if necessary. After getting a clearer picture of the disease suffered by the patient, the gastroenterologist will determine the proper treatment to treat the disease.

There are several medical procedures that can be performed by gastroenterologists to diagnose or treat gastrointestinal disorders, such as:

  • Blood test
  • Imaging / X-rays
  • Laboratory test
  • Endoscopy, a gastrointestinal examination using a special instrument along with a camera to examine the digestive tract. Endoscopy is divided into gastroscopy, colonoscopy, and sigmoidoscopy
  • Motility test
  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP), a test performed to determine the condition of the pancreas, gallstones, or tumors in the bile duct and treat them
  • Liver biopsy, a test performed to determine the condition of the liver and detect disorders such as inflammation or fibrosis

When to See a Gastroenterologist?

When you feel that you may have a problem in your digestive tract or have unbearable pain in the stomach, it is advisable to see a gastroenterologist. This is especially if the discomfort has interfered with your activities. Disorders that affect the gastrointestinal tract can happen to anyone, both men and women, from children to adults. However, gastrointestinal disorders tend to occur more frequently at the age of 50 years and over. At this vulnerable age, it is recommended to consult a gastroenterologist for prevention and maintenance of the digestive tract.

If there is a disorder within your digestive system, the absorption of nutrients into the body will also be affected. It is advised not to let the disorder continue in the long term, especially for children who are in the phase of growth and development.

You are advised to see a gastroenterologist immediately if you experience the following conditions:

  • Abdominal pain: feeling pain in the stomach area and persistent pain in the gut
  • Constant heartburn
  • Vomit blood or have bloody bowel movements
  • Difficulty swallowing food
  • Loss of appetite
  • Drastic weight loss for no apparent reason
  • Repeated constipation

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