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Important Reasons to See a Gastroenterologist

By Gastroenterology Associates

Important Reasons to See a Gastroenterologist Colorectal cancer screening should begin at the age of 50 and age of 45 for African Americans. A colonoscopy is still the gold standard of screening. During the colonoscopy procedure, the gastroenterologist will be able to see the lining of the large intestine to look for early signs of cancer, inflamed tissue, abnormal growths (polyps), ulcers, and bleeding. Individuals at high risk of colorectal cancer may need to start screening at an even earlier age. You may be considered high risk if you or a close relative have had colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer. If you have inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, or ulcerative colitis, you may be at increased risk for colorectal cancer. Certain genetic syndromes like familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (Lynch Syndrome) also place individuals is a high risk category.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is a broad term used to describe diseases that involve chronic inflammation of the digestive tract. The two major types of IBD are ulcerative colitis (UC) and Crohn’s. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and may include abdominal pain, diarrhea, severe urgency to have a bowel movement, fever, weight loss, nutrient deficiencies and bleeding ulcers.

Dysphagia is a medical term for difficulty in swallowing. It is usually a sign of a problem with your throat or esophagus- the tube that moves food and liquids from the back of your mouth to your stomach. There are many different problems that can prevent the throat or esophagus from working properly. Some of these are minor, and others are more serious. Any of these conditions can be easily evaluated by a gastroenterologist.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a very common disorder, which is associated with abdominal pain, discomfort, bloating and fullness. Often, IBS presents with frequent bowel movement urges that are hard to control, but may also present with constipation. There may be serious underlying causes of alterations in bowel function which need further evaluation. IBS is a disease that can frequently be controlled with medication for almost complete, long-term relief of symptoms.

Diarrhea can be an ongoing and/or very severe problem. When diarrhea is persistent, it merits further investigation. Diarrhea can be secondary to irritable bowel syndrome, but it can also be due to a bacterial infection or due to chronic inflammatory disease of the colon such a Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. These conditions merit aggressive treatment. Uncontrolled diarrhea can be associated with weight loss, abdominal pain, and/or bleeding and needs to be thoroughly investigated.

Gastrointestinal Bleeding can come from one or more areas of the GI tract (esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine or colon, rectum and anus). In an adult, blood loss is often from the GI tract. The most common causes are due to an ulcer in the stomach, hemorrhoids, polyps, cancers, or diverticular disease. It is important to not make the mistake of assuming that a small amount of blood seen with a bowel movement or on the tissue is due to hemorrhoids. It is possible that a tumor may be located above the hemorrhoids and further investigation may be lifesaving.

Hemorrhoids are very common and it is estimated that 75% of all Americans will experience them at some point during their lives. Hemorrhoids are blood vessels (veins) in the anal canal. When those blood vessels become swollen or dilated, symptoms may develop. Treating hemorrhoids may require nothing more than home treatment and lifestyle modifications, but many patients may need a more definitive treatment to destroy or remove the hemorrhoids. At GA, we have found that rubber band ligation is a very effective treatment for internal hemorrhoids. This procedure does not require sedation or bowel prep to complete and it usually takes about 5 minutes.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is associated with indigestion and heartburn, but can be associated with atypical symptoms such as choking and/or a cough. The end result of long-term, untreated reflux can be esophageal cancer and/or narrowing of the esophagus.

If you experience any of the following signs and symptoms, a trip to the gastroenterologist’s office may be warranted: unexplained weight loss, persistent nausea & vomiting, abdominal pain or a feeling of abdominal fullness, excessive belching or burping, chronic constipation, a change in bowel habits, or jaundice which is the yellowing of the skin or sclera (white of the eye).

First talk with your primary care provider about any problems you are having, but a referral to a gastroenterologist may be just the thing you need to get you back to feeling your very best.

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