6 Signs You Might Need a Gastroenterologist
Gastroenterologists treat everything in your body that relates to digestion, absorbing nutrients, and removing waste from your body. This includes obvious organs like your stomach and intestines, but it also includes not-so-obvious sections of the digestive tract, like your esophagus, liver, pancreas, gallbladder, bile ducts, rectum, and anus.
Most people have a primary care physician (PCP) who they consider their “main doctor.” If your issue is serious or if your PCP’s treatment options aren’t giving you relief, he or she may refer you to a specialist for in-depth treatment. Many medical insurance plans require a referral from your PCP before you make an appointment with a specialist, so call the number on the back of your insurance card to see if you need a referral first.
And, in case your primary care doctor is not making the connection, below are six signs you might need to see a gastroenterologist:
You’re 45 Years of Age or Older
Colorectal cancer is the 3rd largest cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States, even though a colonoscopy (the gold standard for colon cancer screening) is the ONLY cancer screening method that can both detect and prevent cancer. The American Cancer Society just lowered the recommended age to begin colon cancer screening from 50 down to 45. If you have colorectal cancer in your family or have higher-than-normal risk factors for colorectal cancer, speak to your primary care physician about when you should begin colon cancer screenings.
Swallowing Is Becoming Difficult or Painful
If you regularly experience difficulty or pain when swallowing or if you feel like food is “stuck” in your throat or chest, you should see a gastroenterologist. You could be suffering from dysphagia, especially if you’re also experiencing hoarseness, hiccupping, coughing, or feeling full after only a few bites of your meal. Untreated dysphagia can lead to malnutrition, dehydration, choking, and even aspiration pneumonia.
You’ve Experienced a Change in Bowel Habits
No one likes to talk about their bowel movements, but changes could indicate a problem. Constipation, diarrhea, bloating/gas, narrowing of stools, or changes in the frequency or consistency of bowel movements are all symptoms that can help your gastroenterologist figure out if there’s a problem in your digestive tract.
You Have Persistent Heartburn or GERD
Heartburn is caused by stomach acid backing up into your esophagus. Occasional heartburn isn’t typically a sign of alarm, but if you notice heartburn more than twice a week, you might have Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD).
You Have Nagging Stomach Pain
When you experience pain, your body is usually trying to tell you that something is wrong. Abdominal pain could be a symptom of several GI issues, so when you see a gastroenterologist, be sure to describe exactly how it feels. Is the pain sharp, dull, stabbing, and/or radiating? They will also want to know exactly where the pain is and how long and how often you have been experiencing it. Are your symptoms occurring every time you eat for the past 2 weeks, about once a day over the past month at seemingly random times, when you lay down at bedtime for the last 10 days?
There’s Blood in Your Stool
Bleeding is not normal. If you see blood in the toilet or on the toilet paper, or if you have unusually dark, tarry stools, it’s definitely time to see a gastroenterologist. The most common cause of bleeding is hemorrhoids, which are easy to treat, but the bleeding could also indicate serious problems.
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