Minor digestive problems can sometimes cause discomfort with symptoms such as mild heartburn, abdominal bloating, and stomachache. While occasional digestive symptoms are usually not serious, when symptoms tend to recur, do not go away, or cause much distress, then it is time to see a gastroenterologist.
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, 60 to 70 million people in the U.S. are affected by digestive diseases, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), gallstones, hemorrhoids, and inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs), among others.
If you have digestive-related symptoms, or you were just diagnosed with a disease of the gastrointestinal tract, finding a trustworthy, experienced gastroenterologist is likely on the top of your list. However, even though many great doctors exist, not every gastroenterologist will be the right fit for you.
Our goal here at MediFind is to give you more confidence in your health decisions, especially when settling on the right doctor. That’s why we created this guide—to empower you with the information you need to make the right decisions when choosing and working with a good gastroenterologist. (Note: if you are currently experiencing new or serious symptoms you think may be related to a digestive disease, call your doctor, visit your local emergency room, or call 911).
Your gastroenterologist will likely be a part of your life for some time, so connecting with a physician you can trust is vital. Later on, in this guide, we will discuss finding the right gastroenterologist who can treat your specific condition.
But first, let’s cover what the gastrointestinal system is, what a gastroenterologist does, and what to expect when you walk into a gastroenterologist’s office.
- What is the Gastrointestinal System?
- What is a Gastroenterologist?
- What Does a Gastroenterologist Do?
- Gastroenterology Sub-specialties
- What Can a Gastroenterologist Diagnose?
- Why Would You Be Referred to a Gastroenterologist?
- How Do I Find a Gastroenterologist Who Takes My Insurance?
- When Should I Travel to See a Gastroenterology Expert?
- What to Expect at Your Gastroenterologist Visit
- How to Find a Good Gastroenterologist
What is the Gastrointestinal System?
The gastrointestinal system is composed of a hollow tube that runs from the mouth to the anus that functions to transport, digest, and absorb food. The gastrointestinal system also has accessory organs that assist with its functions—the liver, pancreas, and gallbladder.
The gastrointestinal system includes:
- Small intestine
- Large intestine
- Biliary Duct
What is a Gastroenterologist?
Gastroenterologists are experts in gastrointestinal diseases that affect the gastrointestinal system, also known as the GI tract or digestive system, which includes the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, anus, liver, pancreas, bile ducts, and gallbladder. Gastrointestinal diseases are also often called digestive diseases. Common gastrointestinal diseases include gastroenteritis, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), hepatitis, hemorrhoids, and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
Your primary care physician may refer you to a gastroenterologist if they feel you need more specialized attention for your digestive-related symptoms. These symptoms could range from a persistent lump in your throat or difficulty swallowing, blood in your stool, hemorrhoids, unexplained weight loss, excessive gas or abdominal bloating, heartburn or other symptoms.
What Does a Gastroenterologist Do?
Gastroenterologists specialize in diagnosing and treating gastrointestinal diseases, which are a group of disorders characterized by conditions such as bloating and excess gas, constipation, diarrhea, difficulty swallowing, heartburn, nausea and vomiting, jaundice (yellow skin and eyes), and abdominal pain.
Gastroenterologists generally treat diseases with medications and can perform colonoscopies and other procedures that look into your gastrointestinal tract. If surgery is needed, they may refer you to other specialists, such as a colorectal or oncological (cancer) surgeon.
Even though a gastroenterologist is a specialist, there are several subspecialities within this discipline. A gastroenterologist can receive specialized training to manage specific gastrointestinal diseases in subspecialties such as:
A hepatologist specializes in diseases of the liver, biliary tree, gallbladder, and pancreas, such as hepatitis, acetaminophen and other drug overdose, parasitic liver infections, portal hypertension, ascites (fluid in abdomen), liver transplantation, and other diseases. A hepatologist can perform procedures such as endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP), transhepatic pancreato-cholangiography (TPC), or transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic shunt (TIPSS).
Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBDs)
Gastroenterologists who specialize in inflammatory bowel diseases treat conditions such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, complications of inflammatory bowel disease, and perform post-operative care after surgery for inflammatory bowel disease-related conditions. These gastroenterology subspecialists can perform procedures such as colonoscopy, endoscopic ultrasound, chromoendoscopy, capsule endoscopy, and double balloon enteroscopy.
A gastroenterologist who specializes in colorectal cancer can perform colorectal cancer screenings and endoscopic removal of polyps. If further surgery is needed, your gastroenterologist may refer you to a colorectal surgeon.
A pediatric gastroenterologist is an expert in gastrointestinal diseases in children. Pediatric gastroenterologists often see children who are affected by bleeding from the gastrointestinal tract, who are lactose intolerance, have food allergies or intolerances, or severe or complicated gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), short bowel syndrome, liver disease, acute or chronic abdominal pain, vomiting, chronic constipation, chronic or severe diarrhea, pancreatic insufficiency, cystic fibrosis (CF), pancreatitis, and nutritional disorders, such as malnutrition, failure to thrive syndrome, and obesity.
Additional gastroenterology subspecialities include gastrointestinal motility, interventional endoscopy, neurogastroenterology, transplant hepatology, and others.
What can a Gastroenterologist Diagnose?
Gastroenterologists diagnose and treat gastrointestinal diseases that affect the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, anus, liver, pancreas, bile ducts, and gallbladder.
Some of the most common conditions treated by gastroenterologists include:
- Barrett’s esophagus
- Bile duct obstruction
- Celiac disease
- Colorectal cancer
- Crohn’s disease
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Stomach cancer
- Ulcerative colitis
Why Would You Be Referred to a Gastroenterologist?
According to Sutter Health, almost everyone will have a mild stomachache now and then or experience some heartburn, gas, or constipation. These conditions usually resolve on their own. However, if symptoms regularly recur, do not resolve, or are causing distress, you should first see your primary care physician. They may refer you to a gastroenterologist for further evaluation to determine what may be the cause and its treatment.
Once you have a referral to see a gastroenterologist, it is important to see them as soon as possible, so they can treat any potentially serious conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), to manage the condition and prevent complications.
Why Would You Need to See a Gastroenterologist?
If you experience any of the symptoms listed below, you should first call your primary care physician who may refer you to a gastroenterologist.
- Persistent lump in your throat
- Difficulty swallowing
- Difficulty eliminating bowels
- Anal or rectal pain
- Blood in your stool
- Unexplained weight loss
- Chronic abdominal bloating or gas
- Persistent heartburn
- Jaundice (yellowing of skin and whites of eyes)
Note that in this article, we are discussing digestive issues that might or might not require emergency assistance. However, if you have any of the symptoms listed below, call 911 and/or visit an Emergency Room immediately:
- Severe abdominal pain
- Inability to swallow
- Bleeding from the rectum or anus
- Severe vomiting or vomiting blood
- Persistent diarrhea
- Persistent abdominal bloating
Lifestyle Habits and Pre-Existing Conditions That Affect Gastrointestinal Health
According to Harvard Medical School, certain lifestyle habits, such as eating a healthy diet, not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, regular exercise, and managing stress can help keep your digestive system healthy. However, unhealthy lifestyle habits, your family medical history, or pre-existing conditions put you at greater risk of developing gastrointestinal issues. If any of the below apply to you, you should consider visiting a gastroenterologist:
- Chronic hepatitis
- History of smoking
- Family history of mouth, throat, gastric, colon, pancreas, or gallbladder cancer
- Family history of inflammatory bowel disease
- Family history of gastrointestinal disorders, such as Hirschsprung’s disease
- Poor diet with lack of fiber and vegetables
- Straining at the stool
- Frequent or constant constipation
- Frequent use of over-the-counter antacids
How Do I Find a Gastroenterologist Who Takes My Insurance?
With the high cost of medical care, it’s especially important to know whether a particular gastroenterologist accepts your private medical insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid. While you can choose to be treated by a gastroenterologist who doesn’t accept your insurance, it’s important to understand how much you will have to pay out of pocket. MediFind always recommends calling the doctor’s office to confirm their acceptance of your insurance and to discuss possible costs and payment arrangements.
When Should I Travel to See a Gastroenterology Expert?
If you have a rare gastroenterological condition, then it is less likely that there will be an expert nearby, even if you live in a large metropolitan area. While the decision to travel to see a gastroenterology expert is not easy and can be an additional burden, you may want to consider traveling to see an expert to be certain you are getting the best treatment.
What to Expect at Your Gastroenterologist Visit
While it is natural to feel apprehensive when going to the doctor, we hope to put you at ease by outlining what you can expect when you visit a gastroenterologist. Below, we also provide you with some tips on how to get the most out of your visit by preparing a list of questions to ask your doctor.
Advice for First-Timers Visiting a Gastroenterologist
If this is the first time you are seeing a gastroenterologist, here are some tips to help you have a successful visit:
Bring your list of concerns (or reasons for your visit) with you on a piece of paper or your phone, so you can easily recall them when speaking to your gastroenterologist. (Later, in this article, we will supply you with a list of questions to ask your doctor.)
Bring a friend or loved one for support, so you can recall the information after your visit. You may be nervous, which will make it more difficult to remember what the gastroenterologist said. Bring a notebook as well, so you can take notes.
Be honest and don’t hold anything back. Your gastroenterologist can only help you with the information you give them. Understanding the full picture will give your gastroenterologist more to work with and help them to provide you with the best care.
Before Your Gastroenterology Appointment
Prepare for your appointment by gathering the following items:
- Copies of medical records (dating back at least one year)
- List of surgeries you have had
- List of current medications, including dosages
- Allergies to medications or other allergies, such as to food, dust, or pollen
- Any alternative therapies/vitamins/herbal supplements, including dosages
- List of symptoms and details about how long they last and how often (it’s advisable to write them down beforehand as it’s easy to forget when you are at your appointment)
- Stressful work or life events that may be affecting your health
- Family history of disease
- Name and contact information of pharmacy
- List of questions (see next section)
During Your Gastroenterology Appointment
What can you expect during your appointment? First, it is best to leave early for your appointment in case you have difficulty finding the doctor’s office. You should also show up at least 15 minutes prior to your appointment to fill out paperwork.
Your gastroenterology visit may include a review of your medical history, a physical exam, and an evaluation of symptoms. Your gastroenterologist may also send you for additional testing to confirm or rule out a diagnosis. Once a diagnosis is confirmed, your doctor will discuss treatment options with you or possibly refer you to another specialist or subspecialist if you need additional care. For example, if you need a surgical procedure, your gastroenterologist may refer you to a colorectal surgeon.
You should tell your gastroenterologist about any pain you may be having in your mouth, throat, abdomen, rectum, or anus, its exact location, and how long it usually lasts. You should also tell your doctor when your symptoms began, whether they worsen or improve at certain time, and whether anything seems to trigger your symptoms.
The gastroenterologist may ask whether any family members have had digestive diseases, since some gastrointestinal disease tend to run in families. The gastroenterologist may ask about your recent travels or living situation, since some gastrointestinal diseases, such as intestinal parasitic infections, are associated with environmental factors.
Your gastroenterologist may need more information before creating a treatment plan and may recommend follow-up visits and any of the following tests or procedures:
- CT scan
- Blood or stool tests
- Barium swallow or enema
Your gastroenterologist may prescribe over-the-counter medications, such as antacids, proton pump inhibitors, H2 blockers, or metoclopramide. The doctor may also ask you to make lifestyle changes to help manage your symptoms, such as to avoid foods that trigger symptoms, eat more fiber, exercise regularly, manage stress, evacuate bowels when needed, and cut back on alcohol and caffeine.
This visit will also include a time to discuss your concerns with your doctor. Feel free to ask your questions. Good doctors want to ease your worries and ensure that you fully understand your diagnosis, what to expect, and the treatment options. Your time with the doctor, however, may be limited, so be certain to prepare your questions beforehand, placing the highest priority questions at the top of the list.
Below is a list of questions to consider asking your gastroenterologist. The questions you ask your doctor will, of course, depend on your unique medical situation, so we have included a list of questions connected to different scenarios. Choose the questions that make the most sense for your situation.
List of Questions to Ask at Your Gastroenterologist Visit
- What is my diagnosis?
- What is the condition I have?
- What is my prognosis?
- Are there any risks or complications associated with my condition?
- Do I need additional testing?
- Why do you want these tests?
- Are there any risks or complications associated with these tests?
- What is involved with this test? (outpatient, duration, preparation, etc.)
- When will I find out the test results?
Treatments / medication / procedures
- What treatments are available?
- Are there any risks or complications involved with this treatment?
- Why do I need this treatment?
- What are the benefits of each treatment?
- Are there any alternatives to this treatment?
- How effective is this treatment?
- Are there any side effects of this medication?
- Does this medication interact with anything?
- Will I have to take this medication for life?
- How long will this procedure take?
- How do I need to prepare for the procedure?
- Is the procedure outpatient, or will I need to stay in the hospital?
- Who will be performing the procedure?
- Do I need to make lifestyle changes?
- Will lifestyle changes improve my condition or alleviate my symptoms?
- When should I follow-up with another visit?
- Should I get a second opinion?
After the Appointment: Getting a Second Opinion
Suppose you are happy with your gastroenterologist and got your questions answered. In that case, you can schedule a follow-up appointment and follow the doctor’s treatment recommendations for medications or additional testing, and so on.
However, if you are unhappy with or uncertain about your diagnosis and want a different perspective on your condition or treatments, it is okay to get a second opinion. There are many wonderful gastroenterologists, but not every physician may be the right fit for you. The doctor-patient relationship is an important one, with communication being an essential factor. If you have a hard time communicating with your gastroenterologist or do not feel comfortable, it might be time to look for another physician.
Since even the top gastroenterologists can have different opinions, you should always try to get a second opinion from another expert before making treatment decisions. Ideally, you want to get a second opinion from an expert who can provide you with an alternative point-of-view, so you can make an informed choice that best fits your condition and its treatment.
Medical errors are rare, but they do happen because doctors are fallible like everyone else. The BMJ Quality & Safety Healthcare Journal published a study on diagnostic errors. It estimated that approximately 12 million adults in the U.S. are misdiagnosed every year, and half of these misdiagnoses could potentially be harmful. Getting a second opinion can assure you that you are making the best health decisions and receiving the quality of care you deserve.
If you want to find a gastroenterologist who can give you a quality second opinion, visit MediFind’s Second Opinion Finder.
How to Find a Good Gastroenterologist
Finding a gastroenterologist who is the right fit can be a confusing and complicated process. However, with the right tools, you can find an expert you can feel comfortable with and get the care you want and deserve.
Typically, your primary care physician will refer you to a gastroenterologist. But that doesn’t mean you need to see that specific doctor from the referral. Later, in this section, we will show you how you can easily search for top gastroenterologists.
Your friends and family members may also refer you to a good gastroenterologist. However, beware—though well-meaning, your loved ones might not know which gastroenterologist has expertise in your specific condition. We will cover why this is important later in this section.
Beware of online doctor reviews as well. While they might help you evaluate things such as staff friendliness and office aesthetics, they do not give you the full picture of a doctor’s expertise.
The American Gastroenterological Association recommends researching a doctor’s credentials and confirming they are board-certified before booking an appointment. Search the following websites for a gastroenterologist’s certifications and specialties:
American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM)
American Board of Family Medicine (ABFM)
These databases do not dive into specifics on a physician’s expertise, however. While they list the doctor’s board certifications, they do not provide information on their expertise in specific gastrointestinal conditions, their current and past research, their clinical trials, or their connectedness to other doctors in their field.
Find the Best Gastroenterologists Quickly
MediFind was created to help health consumers quickly and easily find the best care and pathways to the right treatments.
MediFind is different from other doctor-finder databases because it doesn’t evaluate physicians based on online reviews, which can be biased, unreliable, and even fake. While marginally helpful for assessing the doctor’s office staff’s friendliness or typical wait times, online reviews do not give you the full picture of a doctor’s expertise. In contrast, MediFind catalogs physicians who focus on the treatment and care of one or a few conditions. These doctors are likely to offer additional perspectives and insights into your care and treatment than more generalized doctors.
MediFind evaluates physicians according to:
- Connectedness with other physicians who are experts in the treatment and pathology of a particular disease or condition
- Published papers or research about this condition
- Experience in treating patients with this condition
- Number of patients referred from other specialists who treat this condition
MediFind also offers a suite of tools and current research to help beyond just finding a great doctor:
- Find a Doctor –MediFind’s database includes over 2.5 million doctors from around the world that allows you to search by condition, specialty, or name.
- Symptom Checker – Research your symptoms and identify possible causes that you can discuss with your doctor.
- Second Opinion Finder – Find doctors who can give you a quality second opinion.
- Research medical conditions, clinical trials, and the latest advances for your condition.
- Search through current objective medical data compiled in an easy-to-digest format.
How to Search for the Best Gastroenterologists: Start Here
To search for gastroenterologists in your area, visit MediFind’s Best Gastroenterologists Near Me page and enter your location and radius. MediFind will return a list of gastroenterologists within the mile radius of your preferred location.
We encourage you to take your search a step further to see what makes MediFind superior to other tools. On the right side of the Gastroenterologist search page, next to the doctor profiles, you will find a list of gastrointestinal conditions. Click on a condition to customize your search. If your gastrointestinal condition is not listed here, simply click on the search icon in the upper right corner of the page and type in your condition to find gastroenterologists who specialize in your specific condition.
This list is important because there is a lot of value in finding a gastroenterologist with expertise in your specific gastrointestinal condition, as we explained earlier.
Performing a custom search for a particular gastrointestinal condition returns a list of gastroenterologists who are experts in that condition, ranked by MediFind’s expert tiers. Our expert tiers evaluate physicians based on the factors we listed above (connectedness, number of patients seen, referrals, and research), among other factors. Read more on how MediFind evaluates physicians. When you click on a doctor’s profile, you will also find more information about the condition along with its latest advances and clinical trials. The profile also includes the doctor’s credentials, research, and expertise in related conditions.
If you are unsure of your specific condition, use MediFind’s Symptom Checker to narrow your focus on a diagnosis so you can find the right gastroenterologist. Note that the Symptom Checker is not a diagnostic tool. It merely helps you narrow down a condition to find the best specialists (who have expertise in that condition), so you can find the best gastroenterologist and discuss your potential diagnosis with your doctor.
We’re On Your Side
The information MediFind offers you is not available in online reviews or other medical websites. However, it’s essential to have this information, so you can receive the highest quality of care.
When you are managing a complex or rare health condition, time is not always on your side. We created MediFind to help you find the best care as quickly as possible. We hope that we can alleviate some of the challenges associated with your journey to better health, while providing you with the means to access world-class doctors you can trust.