What Is a Gastroenterologist (GI Doctor)?

by Andrew Laker | Sep 22, 2015
GI Doctor Patrick Barrett, MD

By Patrick R. Barrett, MD,
Southeastern Indiana Gastroenterology, LLC

While some people understand what gastroenterology (GI) is, most people only truly understand what a gastroenterologist (GI doctor) does when they go in for their first colonoscopy to screen for colon cancer.

A gastroenterologist is an adult internal medicine doctor who has additional training in diseases of the digestive system and procedures, like endoscopy, used to examine the system. Gastroenterology involves every organ that is vital to digestion, including the liver and pancreas.

AREAS OF EXPERTISE

Along with screening for colon cancer, a GI doctor sees patients for:
• Abdominal pain
Acid reflux
• Constipation
• Diarrhea
• Gastrointestinal bleeding

Often when initial testing and treatments done by a primary care doctor do not fully resolve a GI problem, a referral is placed to a GI doctor. This visit can be as simple as going to an endoscopy center to have a colonoscopy to remove colon polyps or as involved as a detailed clinic visit followed by advanced testing and endoscopy to evaluate a more complex disease.

COLONOSCOPY

As mentioned, a first encounter with a GI doctor usually comes when a patient schedules a colonoscopy. This is the primary tool used to screen for colon cancer for every American older than age 50. Some people with a family history of colon cancer and inflammatory bowel disease are typically screened at a younger age.

There is no doubt the preparation taken the night before a colonoscopy is not enjoyable. Patients typically have to fast for up to eight hours before the procedure, and they have to take a laxative, an enema and/or drink a special fluid that helps prepare their bowels.

However, the procedure itself is painless, and the nurses, GI doctor and sometimes anesthesiologists who take part in colonoscopies make the process efficient and reassuring. Since its universal adoption in 2001, colonoscopy screening has reduced colon cancer rates by about a third in the United States.

THE RIGHT STUFF

A handful of other providers may perform a colonoscopy. GI doctors, however, carry the greatest volume of experience and skill and are the most routinely recommended specialist for any type of endoscopy.

Often GI problems can be frustrating and personal. While not every problem has a simple solution, many readily improve with treatment. Building a good working relationship with a GI doctor can be rewarding for both the patient and the doctor.

Dr. Barrett graduated from the Indiana University School of Medicine and is board certified in internal medicine. Appointments can be made by calling Southeastern Indiana Gastroenterology at 812-372-8680. Columbus Regional Health’s Endoscopy Center provides convenient, high-quality access to digestive health treatments and screenings.

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