7 Things Your Gastroenterologist Wants You to Know

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Marijke Vroomen Durning, RN on August 1, 2021
  • Group of doctors
    Real Talk From Practicing GI Doctors
    Many of us take our digestive system for granted, not giving it much thought until there’s a problem, such as diarrhea, constipation, cramping, gas or nausea. When these issues become chronic, it’s time to see a gastroenterologist, a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating conditions of the digestive tract. Here’s what practicing GI specialists want you to know about their specialty and the types of patients they treat.
  • Woman with stomach pain
    1. “Gastroenterology is a broad field.”
    When specializing in gastroenterology, doctors get to treat patients with a much broader list of diseases affecting many organs, unlike a narrower field, such as cardiology or orthopedics, says Christopher E. Forsmark, MD, a gastroenterologist at the University of Florida. “Gastroenterology is focused on the digestive organs in general, but that includes the esophagus, the liver, the pancreas, and the colon,” he says, adding that GI doctors get to see and treat a lot more of the patient than physicians in most other specialties.
  • patient-with-stomach-problem-in-emergency-room
    2. “Gastroenterology is a good mix of detective and hands-on work.”
    For medical doctors, work is often investigative, asking questions and assessing lab results to reach a diagnosis. When it comes to surgeons, their focus is more procedural and operative. Gastroenterology combines both types of expertise—clinical and procedural—making it attractive to physicians like Patrick A. Hyatt, MD, a gastroenterologist at the Center for Heartburn and Reflux Disease in Baltimore. “I had wanted to do the more medical approach, but I liked doing procedures, and I was good at them.”
  • Doctor and patient
    3. “Gastroenterologists work with patients with long-term problems.”
    Patients who visit gastroenterologist offices or clinics can have any number of complaints, from constant diarrhea, severe constipation, gall bladder problems, or heartburn. Gastroenterologists may follow their patients for years. James Vecchio, MD, a gastroenterologist in Burlington, Vt., says he sees patients who live with chronic, lifelong conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBD), ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. In these cases, having a gastroenterologist you trust can help ensure consistent, effective treatment of your symptoms.
  • Young Asian woman suffering from stomach pain talking to doctor
    4. “Gastroenterologists are also on call for emergencies.”
    “In the acute [emergency] setting, we’re called frequently for GI bleeds,” Dr. Hyatt says. “If you have a bleeding ulcer or if you're a liver patient and you have bleeding esophageal varices (a complication of chronic liver disease), we need to come in and halt the bleeding using a therapeutic endoscopy. It’s something we specialize in.” Other emergencies include removing a blockage that’s making someone choke or clearing a bowel obstruction, both of which can be life-threatening.
  • Colonoscopy Appointment
    5. “Colon cancer prevention is a large part of gastroenterology.”
    One of the most important roles in gastroenterology is cancer prevention, says Dr. Hyatt. Unlike cancers such as breast or prostate cancer, many GI cancers start as benign lesions such as polyps. Polyps are lesions that grow from the lining of the colon and can become cancerous. They can be seen during a colonoscopy and immediately removed in most cases. “We’re able to prevent people from getting colon cancer and esophageal cancer,” Dr. Hyatt says.
  • man-with-heartburn-pressing-chest
    6. “We can stop or detect other types of cancer, too.”
    People who have chronic heartburn may be at risk for esophageal cancer, but if they’re followed regularly by a gastroenterologist, they may be able to prevent developing the disease. “There are mucosal changes that we can see when we look in someone's esophagus that would tell us whether they're at risk for esophageal cancer,” Dr. Hyatt explains. “Once we see those changes, we can identify which patients may be at risk for cancer, and we can intervene before it becomes a problem.”
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    7. “The field of gastroenterology continues to advance—with more to come.”
    Gastroenterology clinics may look very futuristic to some patients and that’s because the field is exploding with new advances. “The field combines the latest advances in endoscopic technology with advanced medical therapies,” says Dr. Vecchio. He says patients are often surprised when they see how much technology GI doctors use during their treatment. And there are more potential breakthroughs on the horizon, specifically in the research of gut bacteria. “There's a whole new field of study that’s not studying the actual organs of the person, it’s studying the bacteria that co-habitat in the colon,” says Dr. Forsmark. “We're discovering how, over millions of years, [bacteria and humans] have evolved together and how important they are to us.” Experts hope these findings can someday lead to improved diagnosis and treatment of digestive conditions—and possibly even cures.
Gastroenterologist | Things Your Gastroenterologist Wants You to Know
  • Christopher E. Forsmark, MD

    Professor of Medicine and Division Chief in the Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition in the College of Medicine at the University of Florida.

  • Patrick A. Hyatt, MD
    Gastroenterologist with The Center for Heartburn and Reflux Disease in Baltimore, part of The Melissa L. Posner Institute for Digestive Health & Liver Disease at Mercy.

  • James Vecchio, MD
    Professor of Medicine and Director of the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at the Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont and the University of Vermont Medical Center.

About The Author

Marijke Vroomen Durning, RN, has been writing health information for the past 20 years. She has extensive experience writing about health issues like sepsis, cancer, mental health issues, and women’s health. She is also author of the book Just the Right Dose: Your Smart Guide to Prescription Medications and How to Take Them Safely.
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Last Review Date: 2021 Aug 1
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.