Telltale signs you should visit a gastroenterologist

A gastroenterologist is a specialist who deals with all the diseases and issues associated with the digestive system, including the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, rectum, anus, pancreas, liver, and bile ducts, and gall bladder. Whenever you experience frequent digestive issues like changes in your bowel movements, abdominal discomfort, constipation, etc., it is advisable to visit a gastroenterologist.

If you have never seen a gastroenterologist before, you may wonder whether your digestive problems warrant seeing a specialist. It might be tempting to wait longer and see whether the symptoms disappear, but that is not advisable. Some of the digestive problems a gastroenterologist treats include:

  • Heartburn.
  • Ulcers.
  • Pancreatitis.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
  • Abnormalities in bowel movements such as blood in the stool and frequent diarrhea.
  • Hemorrhoids.
  • Inflammatory bowel disease.
  • Irritable bowel syndrome etc.

A gastroenterologist is a trained specialist who can diagnose and perform surgeries to treat such conditions using procedures like colonoscopy, upper endoscopy, biopsy, and other techniques for visualizing the digestive system. Here are some signs you need to visit a gastroenterology center.

Frequent and severe heartburn

You can manage occasional heartburn by yourself at home using homemade remedies or prescription medications. But when the heartburns become frequent and unmanageable, it is time to see a gastroenterologist. Chronic acid reflux or frequent heartburn cannot go away on its own; therefore, it is advisable to see a gastroenterologist for diagnosis.

For instance, if you experience heartburn daily or uncountable times a week, it could be a sign of gastroesophageal reflux disease, commonly known as GERD. Over time the condition can damage the lining of the esophagus and cause scars when it is not managed. Consequently, you may experience trouble swallowing and painful ulcers, increasing the risk of developing oesophageal cancer.

Trouble swallowing

Another sign you should see a gastroenterologist is when you have trouble swallowing. That could signify a steadily worsening lump in your throat or swelling, which can be very uncomfortable. Difficulty with swallowing can result from scarring of the esophagus due to prolonged acid reflux or any other problem that causes the esophagus to narrow, causing pain as food passes through. A gastroenterologist can perform an upper endoscopy to diagnose the problem and identify the ideal treatment method.

Unexplained constipation

Constipation occurs when it is challenging to have a bowel movement, or you don’t have one at all. Although the frequency of bowel movements may vary from one person to another, less than three times a week is usually considered constipation. It is normal to experience constipation once in a while, caused mainly by the food you have eaten. 

For instance, you may experience constipation if you eat large amounts of junk, don’t drink enough water, and overuse laxatives. But when it becomes frequent, it is time to see a specialist. Constipation signals that something is wrong with your digestive system.

If you go more than three days between poops, the waste gets harder and dry, making it difficult and painful to empty your bowels. You have chronic constipation if your stool is hard, you strain to empty your bowel, or you are unable to pass the stool ultimately. It could suggest the following problems:

  • Narrowing of the colon.
  • Intestinal blockage.
  • Colon or rectal cancer.
  • Tears in the skin around the anus.
  • Hormonal problems.
  • Neurological disorders.

If you experience chronic constipation, you should visit a gastroenterologist.

Ongoing diarrhea

Diarrhea refers to watery bowel movements, and the worst thing about it is that it can be embarrassing and make it hard to do daily activities. Sometimes diarrhea might be expected, especially when the food you ate or certain medications causes it. In such a case, it can resolve in a day or two. However, it is time to see a specialist when your stool is mostly liquid than solid.

Diarrhea lasting for several weeks or more than four weeks could signify a potentially life-threatening disease. It is associated with parasitic infections, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease, and Crohn’s disease. You should consult a gastroenterologist if you have:

  • A black or tarry watery stool.
  • Severe abdominal and rectal pain.
  • Stool containing blood or pus.
  • You have a high fever.
  • You experience dehydration.

Feeling unusually bloated

Another sign you should see a gastroenterologist is when you feel unusually bloated. Bloating is when your belly feels full or tight, resulting in excess gass production, gas trapped in your colon, and hypersensitivity to gas. Passing gas is a sign of normal digestion and may be caused by certain foods, including beans, carbonated drinks, dairy products, spicy foods, cabbage, and antibiotics.

But constantly feeling bloated could be a sign of a digestive problem that disrupts the normal digestion resulting in excess gas. Some conditions that may cause excessive bloating include celiac disease, gastroesophageal reflux disease, irritable bowel syndrome, autoimmune pancreatitis, and inflammatory bowel disease,

If your flatulence or bloating has been unresponsive to home remedies or over-the-counter prescriptions, it is time to see a gastroenterologist. That is especially when you experience other digestive problems like bloody stools, severe abdominal pain, muscle aches, and body weakness.

Blood in your stool or rectal bleeding

If you notice blood stains on your stool, toilet paper, or as you flush the toilet, it could be a sign of hemorrhoids. A black stool could also indicate that a part of your digestive system is bleeding and could be caused by hemorrhoids or cancer. You can manage hemorrhoids with home remedies or over-the-counter medications, but it is advisable to see a gastroenterologist to determine the root cause of the problem.

Rectal bleeding can signify ulcers, lesions, polyps, inflammatory bowel disease, or rectal cancer. You should see a specialist if you experience bloody stool accompanied by changes in bowel movements, color, or consistency of your stool.

Other reasons to see a gastroenterologist

  • Sudden and severe abdominal pain.
  • Light-colored stools.
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes.
  • Unexplained weight loss.
  • Peptic ulcers.
  • You are due for a colonoscopy.

If you have severe digestive issues that have been unresponsive to home remedies and over-the-counter prescriptions, you should see a gastroenterologist to diagnose the problem and administer treatment.