What Are Gastroenterologists and When Should You Visit One?

gastroenterologist and patient

Poor digestive health affects millions of Americans each year. In fact, they’re the primary diagnosis for approximately eight million emergency room visitors.  

Do you struggle with poor digestion? Have you ever considered seeing a specialist or wondered if certain gastroenterology procedures could help?

If you answered “yes” to those questions, read on to learn more about what gastroenterologists do and when you ought to consider seeing one.

Gastroenterologists: What Are They and What Do They Do?

A gastroenterologist is a type of medical doctor. They specialize in diagnosing and treating health problems that affect the digestive tract. This includes the esophagus, the stomach, the small and large intestines, and the biliary system (which includes the liver, pancreas, gallbladder, and bile ducts).

Gastroenterologists are different from gastroenterologist surgeons, who are responsible for operating on these parts of the body. They still undergo extensive schooling, though, in order to treat patients struggling with digestive disorders and provide them with the care they need.

When Should You See a Gastroenterologist?

Because a gastroenterologist is a type of medical specialist, not everyone needs to work with one. This is true even when they’re experiencing digestive problems. Many mild digestive issues can be addressed by a general practitioner.

There are certain situations in which a gastroenterologist’s help is definitely needed, though, including the following:

Severe Constipation

Occasional constipation does not require a specialist’s assistance. If you aren’t having a bowel movement at least three times per week, though, and have had this problem for several weeks or months on end, you need to consider working with a gastroenterologist. 

Severe Diarrhea

The same goes for diarrhea.

If you’ve had diarrhea for a prolonged period of time, you aren’t dealing with something like a little food poisoning. You could be experiencing something serious, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (or IBS) or Inflammatory Bowel Disease (or IBD).

A gastroenterologist will help you get to the root of the issue and figure out the proper protocol for managing it.

Prolonged Heartburn

Long-term heartburn can be a symptom of conditions like IBS and IBD. Working with a gastroenterologist will allow you to determine whether or not another health problem is contributing to your heartburn. They can also prescribe medications and lifestyle changes that will help you to get it under control.


If you suspect that you’re experiencing gallstones, you need to see a gastroenterologist. They can let you know whether or not you need to have your gallbladder removed, as well as what other steps you can take to address your pain and learn what’s causing your symptoms.


Gastroenterologists also perform colonoscopies, which involve using a special camera to examine the large intestine (or colon). If you’re over the age of 50, or if you suffer from severe digestive problems, you may need a colonoscopy to find out what’s going on or to screen for potential diseases.

Cancer Screenings

You’ll also need to visit a gastroenterologist to have screenings performed for cancers of the digestive tract. They have the tools and knowledge necessary to perform these screenings and let you know whether or not you have any cause for concern.


If you suspect that you have ulcers, or burning sores in the stomach and/or intestine, a gastroenterologist can help. They can evaluate your symptoms and check to see if an ulcer or something else is causing your symptoms.

Severe Bloating

People who experience severe bloating on a consistent basis have something going on with their digestive system. It’s not normal to feel bloated every day or every time you eat. Gastroenterologists can help you learn what’s causing your bloating and get to the bottom of the problem.

Bloody Stool

A gastroenterologist can also help you figure out what’s causing problems with your stool. If you notice blood in your stool, that’s a sign that something’s not right with your digestion. A gastroenterologist will determine what’s causing the problem and provide you with the assistance you need to feel well again. 

Choosing the Right Gastroenterologist

Now that you have a clearer answer to the questions “What does a gastroenterologist do?” and “What kind of conditions does a gastroenterologist treat?”, you might have decided that you need to see one for assistance with your health problems.

You know when to see a gastroenterologist, but you might still be wondering how to choose the right one. Listed below are some tips to help you sort through your options and find the best gastroenterologist for your needs:

  • Ask for a referral from a friend, family member, or your primary care physician
  • Do some research to learn about their credentials and ensure they’re board-certified
  • Find out about their experience and the types of gastroenterology procedures they typically perform
  • Think about their gender and whether you prefer to work with a doctor who’s the same sex as you
  • Learn about the hospital where they work or their private practice and the type of care they provide
  • Schedule a consultation to learn about their communication style and see how you get along
  • Look up online reviews to see what past patients have to say
  • Consider your insurance coverage and make sure their services will be covered (unless you want to pay a lot of money out of pocket)

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when you begin searching for a gastroenterologist. If you follow these guidelines, though, you’ll be less daunted when it comes to making a decision.

Time to Use Your New Knowledge 

Now that you know more about gastroenterologists, the work they do, and when you need to see one, what do you think? Could a gastrointestinal doctor provide you with the assistance you need to get a handle on your stomach problems?

If you’re convinced that they can, keep the tips listed above in mind. They’ll help you ensure you’re able to find the right doctor for your needs.

Don’t forget to check out some of the health section of our site as well. You’ll find lots of great resources there, including tips on how to save money when going to the doctor.

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