Gastroenterologists are doctors who specialize in treating medical disorders of the digestive system. Your digestive system is also known as your gastrointestinal (GI) system or tract. It includes your:
- small intestine
When your GI system is working well, nutrients from your food are moved to your blood stream. From there, they’re distributed to the rest of your body. Many gastrointestinal or digestive diseases may impair this process. A few examples include:
- viral or bacterial GI infection
- ulcerative colitis
- irritable bowel syndrome
- celiac disease
- Crohn’s disease
The role of a gastroenterologist
Gastroenterologists receive extra training after medical school. This helps them learn how to diagnose and treat diseases of the digestive system.
For example, they’re able to perform endoscopy. In this procedure, they use a tiny tube with a built-in video camera to examine the inside of your esophagus, stomach, or colon. They’re also skilled at removing polyps from your digestive tract and interpreting biopsy results. This helps them diagnose problems with your GI system.
They can help you develop a treatment plan once they diagnose your condition. For example, they may prescribe medications. In some cases, they may recommend surgery. They may also suggest changes to your diet, exercise routine, or other lifestyle habits.
How to find a gastroenterologist
Your primary care doctor can help you find a specialist. They can refer you to specific gastroenterologists that they’ve worked with before.
You can also visit the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation or American Gastroenterological Association online if you want more options. Both organizations have referral services and search forms for gastroenterologists.
Think about joining your local chapter of the CCFA if you want a more personal recommendation. You can ask people who live near you about their experiences with different gastroenterologists.
Before you schedule an appointment, contact your insurance company. Ask them if the gastroenterologist is located in your network. In some cases, you may need a referral from your primary care doctor to get your appointment with the specialist covered.
What to look for in a GI specialist
Once you have the names of gastroenterologists near you, research their qualifications.
Look online to see where they were educated. Check how long they’ve been in practice. You can also call their offices to ask how many patients they see each year and whether or not they have an area of specialty.
“This is a lifelong disease, so you should really try and find a gastroenterologist who specializes in inflammable bowel disease, which includes Crohn’s disease,” says Dr. Robert Burakoff, clinical chief in the division of gastroenterology, hepatology, and endoscopy at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Massachusetts.
If you live near a bigger city, check if the gastroenterologists on your list are affiliated with an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) center at a university hospital. “Those doctors will be the most up-to-date with treatment options,” explains Dr. Burakoff. “Plus, if you go to an IBD center, you’ll also have access to colorectal surgeons who have specific experience with IBD.”
When you have a disease that affects your GI system, a specialist can help you get the care you need. Ask your doctor for a referral to a gastroenterologist. You can also connect with the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation or American Gastroenterological Association. Research the gastroenterologists in your area to learn about their qualifications and areas of specialty.