A GI doctor, also known as a Gastroenterologist, is a medical doctor with special training in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases affecting the digestive tract. They have advanced knowledge of the normal function of a number or organs within the digestive tract including the esophagus, small intestine, stomach, large intestine (colon), pancreas, liver, gallbladder, bile ducts, and pancreatic ducts.
An entire field of medicine, Hepatology, is devoted to the role the liver plays in digestion and processing of nutrients, drugs/medications and toxins. GI doctors also have expertise in Hepatology. Most GI doctors are comfortable with diagnosing and treating common disorders of the liver.
GI doctors work as a part of a group practice or independently and they often work in hospitals or private clinics and perform procedure within their offices, hospitals, and private outpatient surgical centers (Ambulatory Surgical Center or ASC).
The first medical degree a GI doctor earns is a doctorate of medicine, or M.D. degree , after studying for 4 years within a medical school. A medical doctor or MD can only become a GI Doctor after completing 2-3 years of training in Internal Medicine followed by 3-4 additional years of training in Gastroenterology and Hepatology.
To advance in their gastroenterology career, GI doctor should be certified by a board. Although certification from the board is not a necessity for a GI doctor it helps them excel in their career and become elected by the American Board of Internal Medicine (AIBM).
Like all medical doctors, a GI Doctor must have strong organizational, communication, leadership, and problem-solving skills. Their career requires them to pay attention to detail while practicing with patience and empathy. Furthermore, a GI doctor must be skilled in the understanding and interpretation of medical and research literature. He or she must also be skilled in the use of tools and techniques for diagnosing diseases of the digestive tract, which include endoscopy, colonoscopy, biopsy, video capsule endoscopy, and interpretation of various imaging modalities (CT can, Ultrasound, MRI, and X-ray).
GI Doctors commonly diagnose and treat patients with symptoms of abdominal pain or discomfort, bleeding from the digestive tract, diarrhea, vomiting, vomiting of blood or rectal bleeding. Other problems include bloating, heartburn, problems swallowing, constipation, bowel movement problems, chronic nausea or vomiting. GI doctors also evaluate patients for causes of abnormal liver enzymes or liver dysfunction.
An experienced GI doctor is able to diagnose colon cancer. Although the symptoms of colon cancer are similar to other colon problems, your doctor will ask you to get tested if they suspect that your symptoms can be that of colon cancer. These symptoms include:
GI doctors diagnose colon cancer by colonoscopy. Other means of diagnosis include stool DNA tests, stool tests for bleeding, abdominal CT scan/MRI. In most cases, GI doctors perform colonoscopy and biopsy. Biopsy samples are reviewed by a pathologist and if cancer is diagnosed patients are referred in a timely way to a collaborative group of doctors that include colorectal surgeons, oncologists and radiation oncologists who treat the cancer.
Colon cancer screening is performed in patients who have no symptoms starting at age 50. An exam or test is considered “screening” when a patient has no symptoms but is considered at risk for a disease. The same test is considered a “diagnostic” test when a patient is symptomatic and there is concern for a disease.
Some special populations start at younger ages including African Americans (age 45) or other patients deemed higher risk due to family history or an underlying medical condition.
There are several other procedures GI doctor performs for diagnosis of disease of the digestive tract. These include endoscopy, video capsule endoscopy, and liver biopsy.
Some GI doctors have specialization and experience in specific disorders of the digestive tract, such as bile duct disease and pancreatic diseases. For example, an advanced endoscopist has training in procedures such as Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography (ERCP), which allows evaluation of the ducts of the pancreas and liver (bile ducts) in order to and perform small surgeries, biopsies, and removal of blockages of the ducts.
Some GI doctors have expertise in the diagnosis and treatment of disorders of the motor/muscle function of the esophagus and rectum, which are involved in swallowing and defecation, respectively. Other diseases include Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Gallbladder Disease, Celiac Disease, GERD (Heartburn, Acid Reflux), Hemorrhoids (Swollen Veins in the Lowest Part of the Rectum, and Anus). Most GI doctors will have an area of particular interest or expertise.
An important sign of a credible GI doctor is their achievement of board certification in Gastroenterology. GI doctors who are associated with AIBM have high credentials and are more preferred by the patients. Further, they must not have any history of malpractice or disciplinary actions action taken against them. Finally, when selecting a GI doctor one should read verified reviews documenting the experience of other patients. This is especially true as the reviews often reflect not only the doctor’s skills and bedside manner but also the quality of care provided by his/her staff as well as the cleanliness of his or her offices.
If you or someone you know faces any symptoms of a gastrointestinal disease get a consultation with a GI doctor.
Daniel Motola, MD, PhD, is a board certified GI doctor in NYC with expertise in the diagnosis and treatment of a large number of digestive diseases. He has particular interests in colon cancer screening, Inflammatory bowel disease (Ulcerative Colitis, Crohn’s Disease), Irritable Bowel Syndrome, GERD, Swallowing Problems, and disease of the liver including Fatty liver disease, Chronic Hepatitis, abnormal liver function tests/liver enzymes, and Cirrhosis of the liver.