In recent years, the importance of gut health has been widely discussed. While one may think that the term gut is just another word for the stomach, in reality, gut refers to your entire gastrointestinal system. This includes the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine (colon), and biliary system (e.g., liver, pancreas, gallbladder, bile ducts).
Did you know that your gut also is the home of your immune system and contains over 40 trillion microorganisms, making it a leading indicator of your overall health? Needless to say, because there are so many moving parts involved with the gut, it can be the source of many common symptoms and conditions.
Here are seven common reasons you should see a gastroenterologist-who specializes in the treatment of these areas:
You may write off heartburn as a normal sign of aging or the result of eating food that is way too spicy, but it could actually be a symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. When heartburn lasts more than a few weeks, you should see a gastroenterologist. Over-the-counter medications can provide relief from heartburn, but if you are using these medications more than twice a week, you should consult a physician. Using an endoscope, a gastroenterologist can examine your upper digestive tract to find the source of your discomfort and develop a treatment plan with you.
2. A lump in your throat
A sore throat and difficulty swallowing are common symptoms associated with the common cold or flu. However, if you notice a lump in your throat that is not accompanied by other viral symptoms such as congestion, runny nose or cough, it could be a sign of a digestive problem.
3. Changes in bowel habits
If you notice any changes in your bowel habits, such as the frequency or stool type, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to consult a gastroenterologist to rule out a larger digestive condition.
4. Rectal bleeding
While we’re on the subject of bowels, rectal bleeding is always considered abnormal. Most often blood in the toilet or on the toilet paper when you wipe is caused by hemorrhoids, however, a GI doctor can confirm there is not a more severe underlying condition.
5. Prolonged abdominal pain or bloating
Minor abdominal pain or bloating can be uncomfortable, but when they become frequent or persistent they can start to interfere with daily life. Common causes include diet, stress, or certain medications, as well as a variety of digestive conditions such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), or ulcers. A gastroenterologist can help get the root of your problem.
6. Food sensitivities or intolerances
Food allergies, sensitivities and intolerances can lead to adverse reactions such as bloating, stomach pain, diarrhea, gas, vomiting and more. A gastroenterologist can test for conditions such as lactose intolerance or Celiac disease (gluten), and develop a treatment plan.
7. Preventative Screenings
A gastroenterologist can look for signs of certain diseases, such as colon cancer, even if you don’t have symptoms. For those at average risk, the United States Preventative Services Task Force (USPTF) recommends that regular colorectal cancer screenings start at age 50 and continue through age 75. Screenings may include a colonoscopy, imaging scans and/or stool samples.
About Birmingham Gastroenterology Associates
For over 40 years, the physicians at Birmingham Gastroenterology Associates have cared for patients with diseases and disorders of the digestive tract, including the esophagus, stomach, intestines, liver and pancreas. The practice has grown to now include 14 board-certified gastroenterologists who see patients and perform procedures at multiple locations throughout the Birmingham area. To schedule an appointment, call (205) 271-8000.