Digestive system diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease, colon cancer, and gastroesophageal reflux disease, require a doctor who specializes in that area. A gastroenterologist is a doctor who has spent an extra two or three years studying the gastrointestinal tract. This includes the stomach, esophagus, small intestine, gallbladder, liver, bile ducts, colon, and rectum.
Those extra years of study make gastroenterologists qualified to treat GERD. GERD is a condition in which stomach acid rises into the esophagus, resulting in frequent and severe heartburn two or more times a week. A gastroenterologist will be able to:
- suggest lifestyle changes
- prescribe medication to neutralize acid or improve gastric emptying
- perform an endoscopic treatment
- suggest surgery to stop acid reflux from occurring
How to Find a Gastroenterologist
Talk to your primary care physician and ask for a recommendation for a gastroenterologist if you suspect that you have GERD. Some primary care physicians are knowledgeable about gastrointestinal issues. However, others may not have much specific training. Usually, it’s best to find a specialist.
You can search the American College of Gastroenterology’s (patients.gi.org) or the American Gastroenterological Association’s (gastro.org) websites for a gastroenterologist if your doctor doesn’t have any recommendations. These websites can help you formulate a list of doctors near you.
Double-check that the prospective doctors are in-network and that you don’t need a referral from your internist before making an appointment.
What to Look For
Come up with a list of gastroenterologists who practice in your area and are covered by your insurance. Then, narrow down the choices by gathering some additional information. Research them online and find out what medical schools they attended and how long ago they graduated. This will clue you in to how much experience they have treating GERD. Don’t feel shy about calling up their office to ask questions like: “How easy is it to get an appointment?” and “Do you actually get to see the main doctor or only a physician’s assistant?”
In addition, look for the initials “FACG” or “FACP” after the doctor’s name. These letters indicate that the doctor is a fellow of the American College of Gastroenterology or a fellow of the American College of Physicians. This typically means that they’ve shown achievement in the field of gastroenterology and are operating at the highest level in the field.
The most important factor isn’t those qualifications—it’s your level of comfort with your gastroenterologist. GERD can be an embarrassing problem. You should be able to describe and discuss all of your symptoms comfortably with your doctor. It’s worth trying another doctor if you get the impression that a doctor isn’t listening or is rushing through your first appointment.