Posts for category: Gastroenterology
While we may not think about the liver very often, this organ plays a vital role in your digestive health and is responsible for some extremely important functions within the body. This digestive organ, which is also the largest organ within our body, is responsible for about 500 bodily functions designed to keep you healthy. The liver doesn’t just store important nutrients including iron but it also is responsible for detoxifying the body. Unfortunately, there are hundreds of diseases that can impact the health of the liver.
Types of Liver Disease
There are many diseases that can impact the health of the liver. These include:
- Infections such as hepatitis A, B and C
- Autoimmune disorders (e.g. autoimmune hepatitis; primary biliary cholangitis)
- Liver cancer
- Inherited diseases such as Wilson’s disease and hemochromatosis
- Other diseases and causes such as alcohol abuse or drugs (e.g. fatty liver disease)
Symptoms of Liver Disease
Unfortunately, many people with liver disease never even know that they have it. In fact, people may even have severe and permanent scarring (known as cirrhosis) and still never experience symptoms. With that said, there are certain signs and symptoms that may develop in those with liver disease. These signs include:
- Extreme fatigue and exhaustion
- Itchy skin
- Yellowing of the eyes and skin (e.g. jaundice)
- Pale stools
- Dark urine
- Swelling of the abdomen
- Confusion and brain fog
If you are experiencing these symptoms it’s important that you seek a gastroenterologist for further evaluation.
Treating Liver Disease
The type and severity of your liver disease will play a primary role in creating your treatment plan. One of the major areas that we will look at is your lifestyle. Lifestyle modifications can greatly improve certain types of liver disease. Lifestyle modifications include:
- Avoiding alcohol
- Quitting smoking
- Eating a healthy diet
- Getting moderate exercise 3-4 times a week
- Avoiding red meat, sugar and processed carbs
- Losing excess weight if obese or overweight
Making changes to your diet and lifestyle can minimize damage to the liver and also help those with liver diseases caused by medications or alcohol dependency. In more severe cases, a liver transplant may be necessary for those with advanced stages of cirrhosis. There are certain prescription medications that are prescribed to cure certain chronic forms of hepatitis; however, most cases of hepatitis A and B do not require treatment. Antiviral medications are used to treat hepatitis C.
If you are noticing warning signs or symptoms of liver disease, or if you have questions about keeping your liver healthy, a gastroenterologist can answer your questions and provide you with the care and treatment you need if you do have liver disease.
If you are experiencing difficulty swallowing this a known as dysphagia, a symptom that often indicates that there is a problem within the esophagus or throat. While dysphagia is more common in older adults and infants, this problem can happen to anyone. You may be dealing with dysphagia if you experience any of these symptoms:
- Trouble swallowing
- Feeling as if food is stuck in your throat
- Persistent choking or gagging whenever eating or drinking
- Regurgitation (when food travels back up into the throat)
- Heartburn or acid reflux (a burning sensation in the chest)
- Vocal changes (e.g. hoarseness)
- Pain with swallowing
- Sudden weight loss
Causes of Dysphagia
There are certain conditions that affect the muscles, nerves, throat, or esophagus that can make it more difficult to swallow foods and drinks. Common causes include:
- Esophageal spasms
- Nervous system disorders (e.g. multiple sclerosis; Parkinson’s disease)
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
Diagnosing and Treating Dysphagia
If you are having recurring or persistent painful or difficulty swallowing it’s important that you see a gastroenterologist to find out what’s going on. Your doctor will go through your medical history, asking specific questions surrounding the issues you are dealing with. From there, certain tests will be performed to diagnose dysphagia. These tests include:
- A barium or traditional X-ray
- pH monitoring (to measure the amount of acid in the stomach)
Along with providing a diagnosis, it’s important for your GI doctor to be able to pinpoint the root cause of your dysphagia. The cause will determine the type of treatments you receive. Common treatment options include:
- Altering your eating habits and avoiding certain foods
- An endoscopy to remove anything lodged in the throat
- Exercises to strengthen and improve the muscles of the throat and esophagus
- Medication to control heartburn, esophagitis, or GERD
- Surgery to remove blockages
The cause of your dysphagia will also determine the prognosis. For example, those whose dysphagia is caused by acid reflux, GERD, or esophageal infections may recover completely from their condition with medication. Of course, chronic dysphagia can also be properly managed through regular monitoring and care from a gastrointestinal specialist.
If you or someone you love is having difficulty swallowing a gastroenterologist can determine the cause of your symptoms quickly. Don’t ignore swallowing problems. Turn to a doctor as soon as possible to find out what’s going on.
Liver disease is more common than you might think. Unfortunately, many people don’t even know that they have liver disease until the disease has progressed into cirrhosis. For the most part liver problems go unnoticed because they don’t cause symptoms. Therefore, the goal of your gastroenterologist is to be able to provide patients with the necessary screening tools to be able to pinpoint problems such as liver disease early on when it’s manageable or even reversible.
What causes liver disease?
The liver is an incredibly important organ that is necessary for digesting food and removing toxins from the body. While some liver diseases are genetic, liver disease can also develop as a result of:
- Poor diet
- Heavy alcohol use
- Certain viral infections (e.g. hepatitis)
What is a FibroScan?
A FibroScan is a unique diagnostic tool that is designed specifically to detect the amount of scarring present in the liver through special ultrasound technology. A FibroScan is a quick, painless and non-invasive way to diagnose fatty liver and to measure the severity of scarring without needles or a biopsy.
Who should get a FibroScan?
If your gastroenterologist has diagnosed you with a chronic liver disease then a FibroScan may be recommended to assess the amount of fat deposits and scarring in the liver. Common types of chronic liver disease include:
- Hepatitis B & C
- Alcoholic liver disease and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH)
- Wilson’s disease and other genetic disorders
What does getting a FibroScan involve?
Before this scan you will want to avoid any food or drinks, besides water, for three hours prior to the procedure. This diagnostic test is completely non-invasive so you won’t require anesthesia or sedation. It only takes about five minutes to perform a FibroScan. During the procedure you will lie on your back where the technician will apply the ultrasound probe to the liver region. Results from the test are provided instantly.
What are my FibroScan results telling me?
A FibroScan uses a scoring system from F0-F4:
- F0-F1: little to no liver scarring
- F2: moderate liver scarring
- F3: severe scarring
- F4: Cirrhosis (advanced scarring)
If caught early enough, sometimes fibrosis (liver scarring) can be reversed through healthy lifestyle changes. Knowing your risk for liver disease can help prevent fibrosis in the long run. If you are concerned about your liver health your gastroenterologist can answer your questions and help you determine whether a FibroScan is right for you.
A gastroenterologist is a doctor that specializes in preventing, diagnosing and treating a variety of disorders, conditions and problems that affect the esophagus, gallbladder, intestines, liver, stomach, colon, and rectum. In essence, a gastroenterologist will be able to provide treatment and care for any problems affecting your gastrointestinal tract. Sometimes you may choose to seek out a gastroenterologist yourself or your family physician may refer you to one.
A gastroenterologist can treat a variety of conditions and diseases that affect your intestinal or digestive tract. Some of these conditions include:
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Celiac disease
- Heartburn and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Stomach ulcers
- Liver diseases
- Colon polyps
Here are some instances in which you may benefit from seeing a gastroenterologist for care.
While this is a common problem that is often the result of a minor issue such as hemorrhoids or an anal fissure, it could also be a sign of a more serious issue. If rectal bleeding is severe, if it lasts for more than 2 or 3 days or if it’s accompanied by abdominal pain or fever it’s time to get it checked out.
While the occasional bout of heartburn can happen to any of us, especially after enjoying a spicy meal, if you find yourself dealing with frequent heartburn several times a week then this could be a sign of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Since this condition can damage the lining of the esophagus, it’s important to see a GI doctor who can provide you with the proper medication and dietary changes to reduce heartburn symptoms.
Changes in bowel habits
If you are noticing chronic constipation that lasts for about one week or you experience diarrhea for more than a few days it’s important to see a gastroenterologist to determine the cause. Everything from a bacterial infection to food intolerances to digestive disorders such as Crohn’s disease could be the cause.
You just turned 50 years old
By the time you reach 50 years old you should also schedule your first routine colorectal cancer screening, also known as a colonoscopy. This is the most effective tool our intestinal doctors have for being able to detect colorectal cancer early. Those patients at an increased risk for colorectal cancer may want to start coming in for routine screenings by the age of 45.
While abdominal pain has many causes if you notice that you experience pain frequently, especially after meals, or if bowel issues or nausea accompany your pain then this may also warrant seeing a gastroenterologist for testing.
From colorectal cancer to bowel problems, a gastroenterologist can provide you with the treatment and care you need for a healthy digestive tract. If you are experiencing any of the issues above a GI doctor can help you.
Wiping and finding traces of blood can certainly be unnerving. While rectal bleeding can be caused by self-limiting problems that will go away on their own it’s also important to recognize when you may need to seek treatment from a qualified gastroenterologist.
Causes of Rectal Bleeding
You can usually tell where the bleeding is coming from based on the color of the blood. Bright red blood typically means that it’s originating in the rectum or colon, while darker blood may be a sign that there is bleeding in the stomach or elsewhere in the digestive tract.
The most common causes of rectal bleeding include:
- Fistula (an infected tunnel between the skin and anus)
- Fissures or tears
- Colitis (also referred to as proctitis)
- Rectal prolapse (caused by weak rectal tissue)
- Colon polyps
- Internal bleeding (With the rectum of GI tract)
- Colon cancer
When to See a Doctor
While you probably won’t need to pick up the phone and call your GI doctor the minute you notice a little blood, it is important to understand when the condition does require an immediate checkup or even emergency care. Minor rectal bleeding is fairly common and will happen to most people at some point during their lifetime. Minor bleeding that goes away on its own won’t require additional treatment or care.
However, if you are dealing with persistent, severe or painful rectal bleeding this could be a sign of a more serious health problem that will require an evaluation by a gastrointestinal doctor. If you are dealing with rectal bleeding you should call your doctor if you:
- Notice bleeding that lasts up to 2-3 weeks
- Also experience a fever, fatigue or unexplained weight loss
- Have severe abdominal pain or your stomach is tender to the touch
- Notice changes in the shape, color or size of your stools for more than three weeks
- Also experience nausea and vomiting
- Are dealing with persistent bowel changes (e.g. constipation or diarrhea)
- Experience anal leakage
Vomiting blood, tar-like stools, bloody diarrhea, or severe abdominal pain all require emergency medical attention. In this case your gastroenterologist may advise you to go to the nearest emergency room.
Are you dealing with rectal bleeding that has you concerned? If so, a gastroenterologist can find out what’s causing your symptoms and help you get your GI health back on track.
Most people who have hepatitis don’t even know that they have it. This is because it doesn’t often cause symptoms right away; however, untreated hepatitis can lead to serious health problems including liver scarring, cirrhosis of the liver, and cancer.
Hepatitis is a condition that causes inflammation of the liver. There are five types of hepatitis: A, B, C, D, and E. There are many causes of hepatitis and it’s important that you visit your gastroenterologist to understand your risks and to detect hepatitis early on before it causes serious and potentially permanent damage to the liver.
Hepatitis can be contracted by sharing items or having sex with an infected person. It’s also possible for mothers to pass hepatitis onto their babies during childbirth. Hepatitis can also be contracted through contaminated food or water.
Hepatitis A: this form of hepatitis is most often contracted by consuming contaminated water or food; however, hepatitis A can also be transmitted through unprotected sex with an infected person. This is considered a short-term infection.
Hepatitis B: hepatitis B can cause both acute and chronic infections and is often contracted when someone comes in contact with bodily fluid such as semen or blood from an infected person. This form of hepatitis can also be transmitted from mother to baby.
Hepatitis C: this type of hepatitis is contracted through blood; therefore, it’s more common to get this infection through the exchange of needles or injections. Like hepatitis B, this is usually a short-term infection but can cause chronic problems.
Hepatitis D: this is a less common form of hepatitis within the US, and only occurs in those who also have hepatitis B. Due to the fact that there are two forms of viral hepatitis present within the body, this can lead to serious and fast liver damage.
Hepatitis E: this short-term form of hepatitis is usually contracted through contaminated foods or tainted water.
Despite the fact that there are five different kinds of hepatitis, all of these types produce similar symptoms. It’s important to see your GI doctor right away if you are dealing with these warning signs of hepatitis:
- Joint pain
- Loss of appetite
- Pale or clay-colored stools
- Dark urine
- Jaundice (Causes yellowing of the eyes and skin)
- Severe itching
- Abdominal pain usually in the upper right side (where your liver is located)
With certain types of hepatitis these symptoms may appear but go away. Even if these symptoms disappear it’s still important to visit a gastroenterologist.
If you are dealing with a digestive disorder or injury you may end up dealing with a bleed within the gastrointestinal tract. Symptoms may or may not be apparent, depending on where the bleed is occurring within the digestive tract. Those with visible symptoms may notice rectal bleeding, black stools or they may vomit blood. Those with less visible symptoms may experience other problems such as dizziness, abdominal pain or trouble breathing. If you notice any changes in your bowels it’s important that you turn to a gastroenterologist.
Upper gastrointestinal bleeding is often caused by:
- Peptic ulcers: This is usually the most common cause of bleeding with the upper GI tract. Everything from a bacterial infection to certain medications can cause sores to develop within the lining of the stomach and small intestines.
- Tears in the esophagus: Esophageal tears can cause a significant amount of bleeding and most commonly occur in heavy drinkers but can also be the result of violent coughing or vomiting.
- Esophagitis: Esophagitis, or inflammation of the esophagus, is often caused by a condition known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This may cause vomiting that resembles coffee grounds.
Lower gastrointestinal bleeding often causes changes in bowel habits. The causes of lower GI bleeds include, :
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD): IBD includes both ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, which cause inflammation and sometimes sores to develop within certain parts of the digestive tract. This often presents with bloody diarrhea or bright red blood in stools. Other symptoms include weight loss, abdominal pain and loss of appetite.
- Diverticulitis: When pouches in the digestive tract develop this is known as diverticulosis, which often doesn’t cause symptoms; however, if one or more pouches become infected this results in diverticulitis, which can produce a significant amount of blood in the stool.
- Colon polyps: This lump that forms on the large intestines won’t often cause symptoms; however, some people may notice abdominal pain, mucus in the stool, or blood. Rectal bleeding is usually the most common symptom associated with colon polyps.
If you experience any warning signs of bleeding within the gastrointestinal tract then it’s time to see a GI doctor as soon as possible. Symptoms such as vomiting blood or significant rectal bleeding should be treated immediately.
If you know someone with Crohn’s disease, or you have it yourself, you know about the dramatic effect it can have on your life. It is a type of inflammatory bowel disease or IBD which causes severe inflammation of your digestive tract.
In severe cases, it can be debilitating and life-threatening. The Centers for Disease Control, CDC, estimate that between 26 and 199 people per 100,000 suffer from Crohn's disease. Most people with Crohn's disease develop it when they are between the ages of 15 and 40, however, people of any age can develop the condition.
The fact is, Crohn’s disease is complicated, producing a variety of symptoms including severe intestinal and stomach pain. In addition to severe pain, Crohn’s disease often produces signs and symptoms like these:
- Ulcers in your intestines
- Chronic fever and fatigue
- Blood in your stool
- Reduced appetite and weight loss
- Abdominal cramping and diarrhea
Crohn’s disease also affects other areas of your body, producing additional signs and symptoms, including:
- Irritated eyes
- Mouth sores
- Skin inflammation
- Joint pain and inflammation
The exact cause of Crohn’s disease is unknown, but it may have a hereditary component, or be caused by an overactive immune system. The good news is, Crohn’s disease can be effectively managed by your gastroenterologist. Treatment for Crohn’s disease may include:
- Tests to check for anemia and other nutritional deficiencies
- Vitamin and nutrient supplementation
- Corticosteroid medications to reduce digestive system inflammation
- Immunosuppressive medications to reduce inflammation and symptoms
- Antibiotics to eliminate bacteria which may be causing an infection
Severe cases of Crohn’s disease may require surgery. Your gastroenterologist may discuss surgical treatment with you if it is recommended in your case.
The diagnosis and treatment of Crohn’s disease requires the services and knowledge of an expert, your gastroenterologist. To find out more about the causes, signs, symptoms, and treatment of Crohn’s disease and other gastrointestinal disorders, talk with your gastroenterologist today!
Persistent pain in your stomach or abdomen could be a signal of irritable bowel syndrome, which should be treated by a gastroenterologist.
Irritable bowel syndrome, also known as IBS, affects your large intestine and can be caused by poor functioning of your gastrointestinal nervous system as it relates to your GI function. The condition causes the walls of your intestines to not move as they should, which impairs the passage of food from your stomach through your intestines.
Irritable bowel syndrome has several signs and symptoms. According to the Mayo Clinic, you may experience:
- Moderate to severe abdominal pain and cramping
- Frequent or chronic gas and bloating
- Frequent or chronic diarrhea or constipation
- Mucus occurring frequently in your stools
When you have irritable bowel syndrome, you can lessen your symptoms by practicing a few simple tips like these:
- Limiting or avoiding spicy foods, fats, nightshade vegetables, beans, fruits, milk, carbonated drinks, alcohol, and chocolate
- Limiting or avoiding high-gluten content foods and foods with a high sugar content
- Managing your stress with exercise, meditation, and yoga
Irritable bowel syndrome is best treated by your gastroenterologist. Professional treatments for IBS include:
- Prescription-strength anti-diarrheal medications
- Prescription-strength medications to reduce intestinal spasms
- Antibiotics to treat any underlying infection or bacterial imbalance
- Medications to relax the colon, including Alosetron
- Medications to increase fluid secretion like Lubiprostone
- Dietary and lifestyle counseling
Irritable bowel syndrome can be effectively treated by your gastroenterologist. Professional treatment for IBS can help you live a life free of annoying and painful symptoms. To find out more about the causes and treatment of irritable bowel syndrome, talk with your gastroenterologist today!
Lactose intolerance is the body's inability to properly digest lactose, a type of sugar that is present in milk, cheese, and other dairy-based items. This is due to a deficiency in lactase, a digestive enzyme present in the small intestine. Some people are affected with lactose intolerance from birth, while others develop the condition later in life. This acquired intolerance may be due to the quality and quantity of the enzyme breaking down, or it may be a secondary response to another digestive problem such as Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, or celiac disease. Lactose intolerance varies in intensity, but it can cause bloating, gas, stomach cramps, and diarrhea within two hours of eating or drinking dairy products. A common digestive issue, it has been estimated that 65 percent of the world's population has some form of lactose intolerance.
Testing for lactose intolerance often starts with the patient ingesting dairy products in a clinical setting so the physician can observe the results. Determining if the intolerance is due to enzyme deficiency or an underlying condition, as mentioned above, is also essential. One of the most reliable tests involves measuring the level of hydrogen in a person's breath after drinking a lactose solution. Hydrogen is a byproduct of the bacteria in the digestive system if lactose cannot be processed efficiently.
Blood tests are another way that doctors can determine lactose intolerance. Over a period of hours and several draws, the sugar in the blood—glucose—will rise slowly in patients who are lactose intolerant. The easiest and most accurate test for infants is a stool acidity test; those whose bodies cannot process lactose will have a low pH level in their stools due to the presence of acid.
People who are diagnosed with lactose intolerance often find that avoiding foods with dairy products is the easiest way to manage their condition. Lactase replacement medication is also available over-the-counter; these supplements can be taken just before consuming a meal with dairy products to temporarily colonize the digestive system with lactase enzymes.
There are many reasons why your gastroenterologist may recommend getting an endoscopy. An endoscopy is a simple diagnostic procedure that allows our doctor to be able to examine the lining and walls of the entire GI tract, from the esophagus and stomach to the intestines and the rectum. Our gastroenterologist focuses on diagnosing and treating conditions that affect the stomach, intestines, and colon. Through a simple endoscopy we can diagnose a wide range of health problems and even treat some of them, too.
What is an endoscopy?
An endoscopy uses a thin, flexible tube known as an endoscope that is inserted either into the throat or rectum and guided through the body to check the lining of the intestinal tract. An endoscope has a camera at the end of it, which allows our gastrointestinal doctor to be able view the lining and look for lesions, bleeds, and other problems.
A common type of endoscopy is a colonoscopy, which allows us to be able to examine the colon and rectum to detect colon polyps and other signs of colorectal cancer in patients over 50 years old (as well as patients at a higher risk for colorectal cancer).
What can an endoscopy find?
Our gastroenterologist and his team will use an endoscope to look for both benign and precancerous polyps that often develop within the colon and rectum. We will examine the lining of the intestinal tract to look for other growths and cancerous tumors. An upper endoscopy can also be used to detect certain digestive problems.
Your gastroenterologist may recommend that you get an endoscopy if you are dealing with:
- Unexplained abdominal pain
- Persistent bowel changes (diarrhea; constipation)
- Chronic heartburn or chest pain
- Signs of an intestinal bleed or blockage
- Blood in the stool
- A family history of colon cancer
- A personal history of colon polyps
Even if everything is fine, both men and women should get routine colonoscopies by the time they turn 50 years old. Those at an increased risk for colon cancer will want to talk with their gastroenterologist about getting screened sooner. A colonoscopy is the most effective tool that we have at our disposal for the early detection of colorectal cancer. If colon polyps are detected during a routine colonoscopy we can also remove them immediately.
If you’ve been told that you need an endoscopy or if you are experiencing any of the symptoms above it’s important that you don’t put off treatment. Call a gastroenterologist today to schedule a comprehensive consultation.
Ulcerative colitis is a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes inflammation and ulcers within the lining of the colon (aka: the large intestines) and the rectum. Symptoms are usually subtle at first but get progressively worse. Common symptoms of ulcerative colitis include:
- Bloody diarrhea
- Abdominal pain
- Rectal bleeding and pain
- Unexpected weight loss
- The inability to defecate
While symptoms are usually mild or moderate, some patients deal with severe and debilitating symptoms. With UC, it is possible to have flare-ups with bouts of remission. If you are noticing regular chances to your bowels or any of the symptoms above it’s important that you turn to a gastroenterologist for a proper evaluation. Untreated ulcerative colitis can cause issues and potentially serious complications.
If your gastroenterologist has diagnosed you with ulcerative colitis you may be wondering what your treatment options are. The treatment plan that your doctor creates for you will depend on the type and severity of your symptoms. Your doctor can help you manage your symptoms effectively to make living with this chronic digestive problem easier.
Treatment for ulcerative colitis usually includes a combination of lifestyle changes and prescription medications. Lifestyle modifications that can help ease and reduce symptoms include:
- Regular exercise
- Staying hydrated
- Proper sleep and rest
- Avoiding fatty, greasy foods and opting for easier-to-digest foods
- Avoiding over-the-counter antidiarrheal medications (as regular use can lead to complications)
- Finding ways to effectively manage stress
- Turning to a counselor, therapist or support group
- Avoiding smoking, alcohol, caffeine, and other foods and drinks that could trigger symptoms
There are several medications that may be used to treat ulcerative colitis symptoms. Common ulcerative colitis medications include:
5-ASA: this is the most commonly used medication for treating UC
Corticosteroids: often used for moderate to severe cases of US
Immunomodulator medications: used to reduce inflammation
Biologics: used to reduce inflammation by targeting a specific protein produced by the immune system
The only way to get rid of ulcerative colitis is surgery to remove the colon; however, surgery usually isn’t recommended unless medications and other nonsurgical treatment options cannot properly control ulcers and inflammation. If there is a bleed or tear within the colon this may also warrant surgery.
Are you experiencing symptoms of ulcerative colitis? Want to discuss your treatment options with a doctor who understands what you’re going through? If you said “yes” then it’s time to turn to a gastroenterologist for the specialized care you need.
One common gastrointestinal problem that affects adults as they age is diverticulosis. This is when pouches develop within the lining of the colon, or large intestines. These pouches are known as diverticula, and usually people won’t experience any symptoms; however, when these pouches become inflamed or infected this leads to diverticulitis, a painful condition that can lead to vomiting, bloating, bowel changes, fever, blood in the stool and abdominal pain. If you are experiencing symptoms of diverticulitis it’s important to see your gastroenterologist for an evaluation as soon as possible.
Causes of Diverticulitis
While the cause of diverticulitis isn’t clear there are certain factors that could increase your chances of developing this GI problem. People who don’t eat enough fiber are more likely to deal with constipation, which can put pressure on the bowels and eventually lead to the development of diverticula within the intestines. Other factors that could increase your chances for diverticulitis include:
- Being overweight or obese
- Leading a sedentary lifestyle
- Having more disease-producing bacteria within the colon
- Taking steroids or NSAID pain relievers (e.g. ibuprofen)
Seeing a Gastroenterologist
When you come into the office for an evaluation your GI doctor will ask you questions about the symptoms you are experiencing, your current health, lifestyle and diet. From there, your doctor will determine which type of testing to perform. Tests to diagnose diverticulitis include:
- Barium enema
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy
Leading a healthy lifestyle can go a long way to reducing your risk for developing diverticulitis. This condition can often be treated with simple lifestyle adjustments (particularly changes to a patient’s diet) such as:
- Increasing fiber intake
- Taking fiber supplements
- Changing certain medications
- Taking probiotics
A liquid diet and rest are usually the best ways to ease diverticulitis symptoms. If there is a bleed within the intestines you may need to be hospitalized. Only in severe cases is surgery needed to remove the diseased pouches. With the proper care, diverticulosis symptoms may go away within in a few days. While increasing fiber intake won’t heal the diverticula that are present it can prevent new pouches from developing.
Wondering if your digestive issues may be due to diverticulitis? If you have unexplained or recurring stomach issues it’s time to turn to your gastroenterologist for a proper diagnosis.
Whenever you eat spicy foods do you know that you’ll be suffering for it shortly after? Do you find that heartburn keeps you up at night or makes it impossible to enjoy a lot of your favorite foods? Do you suffer from heartburn symptoms more often than not? If so then you may be dealing with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a digestive disorder in which food and stomach acid travel back into the esophagus. Over time the stomach’s acidity can wear away at the lining of the esophagus and cause irritation.
Someone with GERD will not only experience heartburn on a regular basis but also may have difficulty or pain when swallowing. Since the acid continues to travel back through the esophagus this can lead to persistent or recurring sore throats, as well as a dry cough or changes in your voice (e.g. hoarseness). You may even feel some of your food (as well as the stomach acid) travel back up through your throat.
If you find yourself taking a heartburn medication more than twice a week or if your symptoms are severe then this is the perfect time to turn to a GI doctor who can find a better way to manage your symptoms. If over-the-counter remedies aren’t cutting it then a gastroenterologist will prescribe a stronger medication. Some medications work by reducing acid production while other medications prevent acid production altogether to give the esophagus time to heal.
While most people find that their GERD symptoms can be properly controlled with over-the-counter or prescription medications, there are some people who still don’t find the relief they want or those who don’t want to use medications for the rest of their lives. If this is the case, there are also certain surgical procedures that can be recommended to help improve how the lower esophageal sphincter functions to prevent food and stomach acid from flowing back into the esophagus.
Of course, there are some simple lifestyle modifications that can also help. Besides maintaining a healthy weight, it’s important to avoid certain foods that can trigger your symptoms (e.g. caffeine; alcohol; chocolate). When you do eat try to eat smaller meals and avoid eating right before bedtime. If you are a smoker, you will want to strongly consider quitting.
If you have questions about GERD and managing your heartburn symptoms then it’s time you turned to a gastroenterologist who can diagnose you with this digestive disease and then create a tailored treatment plan to help make mealtimes less painful.
A colonoscopy can be a great diagnostic tool for figuring out certain intestinal issues.
As a medical news report or general doctor may have already told you, a colonoscopy is a great preventive procedure that everyone will have to go through at some point during their lifetime. As we get older, our risk of developing colorectal cancer increases. As a result, it’s a good time to schedule your first colonoscopy with your gastroenterologist around the time you turn 50 years old. This goes for both men and women.
What is a colonoscopy?
This diagnostic procedure is the best way to fully examine and inspect the colon to check for polyps or cancer symptoms. A colonoscopy uses a small tube with a camera attached to the end that can run the full length of the colon so that your GI doctor can easily determine the cause of your gastrointestinal symptoms.
Who should be getting one?
If you come in complaining of abdominal pain or you notice blood in your stool, then a colonoscopy may be the best way to check for polyps, irritable bowel syndrome or other intestinal problems. Of course, even if someone isn’t experiencing symptoms, colonoscopies are still performed by your gastroenterologist.
This minimally invasive procedure is actually the best way to screen for colorectal cancer, and should be something that everyone gets once they reach their 50’s. You may also need to get a colonoscopy sooner if you have certain risk factors that increase your chances of colorectal cancer including:
A personal history with colorectal cancer or polyps
A family history of colorectal cancer or polyps
You are a smoker
You are a heavy drinker
You lead a sedentary lifestyle
You have a diet heavy in red meats and fatty foods
You are obese
You are African American
What should I expect when I get a colonoscopy?
We will provide you with a preparation (either a liquid or pill) to take one day prior to your procedure to help empty your bowels before the procedure. When you come in for a colonoscopy we will have you lie on your side. Next, we will insert an IV into the arm to provide you with sedation that will help you feel more relaxed. Sedation can sometimes make people drowsy or fall asleep during their colonoscopy.
Next, the scope is inserted into the rectum and slowly passed through the intestines. Some air will also be directed through the scope to help us see the intestinal tract better and look for any polyps, bleeding, etc. If we do find a suspicious growth, we can also perform a biopsy. Polyps can also be removed during your procedure.
Don’t put off a colonoscopy. This procedure is easy, there is no recovery period and it could just end up saving your life. Call our office today if you are experiencing any of the symptoms above or if you’ve just recently turned 50 and need to schedule your first colonoscopy with your gastroenterologist.
Being constipated means your bowel movements happen less often than normal. Everyone goes through it at some point. Fortunately, there are many treatments that can provide relief. Treatment for constipation usually begins with diet and lifestyle changes meant to increase the speed at which stool moves through your digestive tract. If those changes don't help, your gastroenterologist may recommend other treatment options.
1. Poor diet- A common cause of constipation is a diet high in refined sugar (desserts and other sweets), and animal fats (dairy products, eggs, meats, but low in fiber (fruits, vegetables, whole grains), especially insoluble fiber, which helps move stool through the colon and promote bowel movements. Studies show that high dietary fiber intake results in larger stools and more frequent bowel movements.
2. IBS- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is one of the most common causes of constipation. IBS is an intestinal disorder that affects the large intestine. Signs and symptoms include abdominal pain, cramping, gas, bloating, constipation or diarrhea, or both. IBS treatments include diet and lifestyle changes and medications.
3. Bowel habits- You can start a cycle of constipation by suppressing the urge to defecate. After a period of time, you may stop feeling the urge. This can lead to progressive constipation. Research shows that ignoring the urge to defecate may slow down the transit through the digestive tract.
4. Pregnancy- Pregnancy is also a common cause of constipation. Constipation affects 50 percent of women at some point during their pregnancy. Constipation in pregnant women is thought to occur due to an increase in the hormone progesterone, which relaxes the digestive tract. This means that food passes through the digestive tract more slowly.
5. Medications- Many medications can cause constipation. These include antacids that contain calcium or aluminum, pain medications, tranquilizers, antispasmodic drugs, antidepressant drugs, anticonvulsants, and calcium channel blockers for high blood pressure and heart conditions.
6. Laxative Abuse- Laxatives are substances that loosen stools and increase bowel movements. They are used to treat constipation. The long-term use of laxative drugs can cause constipation. People who take frequent doses of laxative drugs become dependent upon them and may require higher doses until, finally, the intestinal muscles become weak and fail to work properly.
The severity of constipation varies from person to person. Most individuals only experience constipation for a few days. For some people, constipation goes on for longer and makes life miserable. If you're suffering from constipation, you should make an appointment with a gastroenterologist.
If you ever chewed gum as a kid then you probably remember an adult telling you not to swallow that gum or else it would get stuck in your intestines. Is this actually true or just an Old Wives Tale? What happens if you do swallow your gum? Could it cause you intestinal distress or other complications now or down the road?
Well, the good news is that most people, at some point during their lifetime, will swallow gum and never experience any issues. Even though the body really can’t digest chewing gum it doesn’t mean that it will get stuck inside the body or will cause gastrointestinal issues. Even if our bodies cannot digest something they can still move the gum along through the body. While the body can easily digest other ingredients found in gum (e.g. sweeteners), the foundation or gum resin won’t be able to be digested properly. But don’t worry; this undigested portion of chewing gum should pass through your body without issue and leave through a normal bowel movement.
However, it is possible that gum may cause a blockage within the digestive system. How? While this is very rare, it is possible that if you swallow a rather large piece of gum (or if you swallow multiple pieces over a short span of time) that this could lead to a blockage. This may be more likely to occur in children, especially children that are too young to understand that gum should be chewed and not swallowed. Make sure that your child isn’t given gum until they fully understand the purpose of chewing gum.
Of course, if you notice some bloating or abdominal discomfort after chewing gum then you could point your finger at this seemingly innocent treat. This is because you might be swallowing excess air while chewing gum, which can lead to some pain and discomfort. If you notice this issue then you may want to limit how often you chew gum or opt for sucking on a mint instead.
If you have questions about your gastrointestinal health or if you start to experience symptoms such as abdominal pain, diarrhea or nausea that doesn’t go away, then it’s important that you have a gastroenterologist on your side who can help.
Acute pancreatitis strikes suddenly, causing severe pain and vomiting. More than 300,000 people are admitted to U.S. hospitals every year due to acute pancreatitis, according to The National Pancreas Foundation.
What causes acute pancreatitis?
If you have gallstones, you may be at increased risk of developing acute pancreatitis. The condition can occur when stones get stuck in the common bile duct and prevent pancreatic fluids from flowing freely. Stones can also force bile to flow back into the pancreas, which may damage it.
You may also develop acute pancreatitis if your calcium or triglyceride levels are very high, or you have an autoimmune disorder, infection, an overactive parathyroid gland, cystic fibrosis or regularly take certain medications. High alcohol consumption can cause pancreatitis, particularly if you've been a heavy drinker for years. In some cases, the cause of acute pancreatitis can't be determined.
What are the symptoms of acute pancreatitis?
Pain from acute pancreatitis is felt in the upper part of the abdomen, although it can extend to your back. The pain may be mild at first, but may become severe and constant and may worsen after you eat or drink alcohol. Other symptoms include fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and a rapid pulse. Prompt treatment is essential if you experience any of these symptoms. The condition can cause bleeding, infections and may even damage your kidneys, lungs and heart if the attack is severe. Although most people recover from acute pancreatitis, the condition can be life-threatening.
How is acute pancreatitis treated?
If your condition is caused by gallstones, you'll need surgery to remove the stones. In some cases, surgery may also be needed to keep your bile ducts open. If you're admitted to the hospital, you'll be given fluids to prevent dehydration caused by vomiting and diarrhea and may receive medication for nausea and pain. Foods and beverages are usually stopped for one to two days after you're admitted to the hospital.
Changing your medications, avoiding alcohol and addressing the causes of high triglyceride or calcium levels may help prevent further bouts of acute pancreatitis. If you have numerous attacks of acute pancreatitis or continue to drink alcohol, the condition can become chronic.
Although it's not always possible to prevent acute pancreatitis, you can reduce your risk by exercising regularly, following a healthy diet and avoiding heavy consumption of alcohol.
Dealing With Hepatitis B
Have you been diagnosed with Hepatitis B? Hepatitis B is an infection of the liver that is caused by the hepatitis B virus. The virus is passed from person to person through semen, blood, or other body fluids. There is no cure for acute hepatitis B. There are many things patients can do to improve their health and protect their liver. The following tips will help you get started on the path toward improved health and well-being.
1. See your healthcare provider regularly. Schedule regular visits with your doctor to stay on top of your health and the health of your liver. People with Hepatitis B can live full lives by taking good care of themselves and getting regular checkups. Getting checkups is an important part of staying healthy.
2. Avoid drinking alcoholic beverages. Avoid drinking alcohol if you have Hepatitis B. Most people know that the liver acts as a filter and can be damaged by drinking too much alcohol. Studies show that alcohol increases HBV replication, promotes damage to the liver and increases the likelihood of developing cirrhosis.
3. Talk to your doctor before taking OTC drugs. Check with your doctor about any OTC drugs or non-hepatitis B prescription medications before taking them to make sure they're safe for your liver. Talk to your doctor before taking any vitamins, supplements, or herbal remedies because they could interfere with your prescribed medications or even damage your liver.
4. Avoid breathing in fumes to protect your liver. Avoid inhaling fumes from paint, household cleaning products, glue, nail polish removers, and other potentially toxic chemicals that could damage your liver. Make certain you have good ventilation, cover your skin, use a mask, and wash off any chemicals you get on your skin with water and soap as soon as possible.
5. Eat a healthy diet to protect your liver. Eat a balanced, healthy diet of fruits, whole grains, lean meats, fish, and vegetables. Try to avoid saturated and trans fats. Cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower and broccoli have been shown to help protect the liver against environmental chemicals.
6. Talk to your doctor about medication. Your doctor may recommend antiviral medications to treat Hepatitis B. Antiviral drugs can help fight the virus and slow its ability to damage your liver. Antiviral drugs approved for treatment of chronic hepatitis B include lamivudine, adefovir, telbivudine, entecavir, and tenofovir. These drugs are taken by mouth. Talk to your healthcare provider about which medication might be right for you.
7. In severe cases, a hospital stay is needed. In some cases, an acute hepatitis B infection can be very severe. For acute Hepatitis B, medical professionals usually recommend rest, fluids, adequate nutrition, and close medical monitoring. Severe symptoms may require hospital treatment. A very small number of patients with acute hepatitis B infection will develop liver failure. They will require a liver transplant to prevent death.
8. Talk to your doctor about interferon injections. Interferon injections. Interferon alpha-2b is the form of the drug that works against chronic hepatitis B infection. It's used mainly for young patients affected by chronic hepatitis B or women who want to get pregnant within a few years. Interferon should not be used during pregnancy.
If you think you might have hepatitis B, don't worry, help is available. Search for a gasterontologist in your area and schedule a consultation. Hepatitis B treatment has improved the lives of many people. And it will do the same for you!
A hiatal hernia is when the stomach bulges through an opening in the diaphragm. Some people don’t even now that they have a hiatal hernia because it doesn’t always produce symptoms; however, some people find out that they have a hiatal hernia once they are dealing with persistent heartburn and indigestion. These symptoms are more likely to occur because a hernia makes it easier for the acids within the stomach to travel back up through the esophagus, which results in heartburn.
In most cases, self-care treatments and medications are enough to alleviate the symptoms associated with a hiatal hernia; however, if the hernia is large then the patient may require surgery. If you are dealing with persistent or severe indigestion and heartburn there are many reasons why this may be happening. While it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have a hiatal hernia it’s a good idea to see a gastroenterologist to find out what may be causing your acid reflux.
How to Treat a Hiatal Hernia
Before treating a hiatal hernia your gastroenterologist will need to diagnose your condition first. There are several tests that can determine whether you may have a hernia. These tests include a barium swallow, an endoscopy and a pH test. Once your GI doctor has determined that you have a hiatal hernia the next step is to create a treatment plan to manage your symptoms.
Again, there are a lot of people with hiatal hernias that don’t even know it because they aren’t experiencing symptoms. If your hernia isn’t causing you problems then treatment is rarely necessary. If you are dealing with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) as a result of your hiatal hernia then there are some lifestyle modifications you can make to reduce your symptoms. These changes include:
- Eating smaller meals
- Losing excess weight if you are overweight
- Avoiding citrus, acidic, and spicy foods
- Limiting fried, fatty goods
- Limiting caffeine and alcohol
- Quitting smoking
- Eating about 3-4 hours before bed or lying down
- Elevating your head six inches above the rest of your body while sleeping
- Avoiding tight clothes, which can put too much pressure on your stomach
You may even choose to take an over-the-counter antacid after eating to reduce stomach acid. Of course, these over-the-counter medications shouldn’t be taken for more than two weeks. You gastroenterologist can also prescribe a stronger antacid that you will be able to take whenever you need it to neutralize stomach acid or to block acid altogether.
Hiatal Hernia Surgery
Surgery for a hiatal hernia is not often necessary; however, if you’ve been dealing with severe reflux that isn’t alleviated with lifestyle changes or medications then surgery may be the only option. If blood flow to the part of the stomach that is sticking through the esophagus is cut off, then surgery will also be required.
If you are dealing with persistent acid reflux and indigestion it’s important to talk with your gastroenterologist to find out if a hiatal hernia could be to blame.
While an embarrassing condition, hemorrhoids are rather common and will happen to the majority of us at some point during our lifetime. This condition occurs when the veins around the rectum or anus swell. Even though this problem is harmless it can be painful. There are many reasons why someone may deal with hemorrhoids. Those who lead a sedentary lifestyle are more likely to develop hemorrhoids. Those who are obese or deal with constipation regularly, as well as pregnant women are also prone to hemorrhoids.
Hemorrhoids can either develop inside the rectum (internal) or around the anus (external). You may be dealing with hemorrhoids if you experience:
- Bright red blood during bowel movements
- Anal itching and soreness
- Pain and swelling around the anus
- A tender lump around the anus
Sometimes hemorrhoids will go away on their own; however, it’s important to know when to see a gastroenterologist for treatment. After all, some of these symptoms could also be caused by other conditions. If you are dealing with rectal bleeding or pain it’s a good idea to see a GI doctor who will be able to perform the proper tests to confirm whether you have hemorrhoids and to rule out any other intestinal problems.
One way to prevent hemorrhoids is to prevent straining during bowel movements and constipation. In order to do this you must staying hydrated and eat a healthy, high-fiber diet. Staying active and losing excess weight can also improve gut health. If you sit for the majority of the day it’s important to get up and move around to take pressure off the veins of the anus.
In terms of treatment, the goal is to reduce pain, inflammation and irritation so the area can properly heal. This involves eating a high-fiber diet. You can also use an over-the-counter hemorrhoid cream, which can numb the area and reduce discomfort. Soaking for 10-15 minutes in a sitz bath can also ease symptoms. With the proper treatment and care hemorrhoids will often go away in about a week. If you don’t experience relief, or if your symptoms are severe then it’s time to see a gastroenterologist.
In some cases, surgery is necessary in order to treat complications (e.g. blood clots) of hemorrhoids or to properly address bleeding, painful, or persistent hemorrhoids. A gastroenterologist can perform these simple outpatient procedures right in their office.
If you are experiencing symptoms of hemorrhoids and not experiencing relief from over-the-counter medications and at-home care then it’s time to see a GI doctor for treatment.
The pancreas is an organ that we don’t often give much thought to and yet it’s quite important. After all, it is responsible for releasing digestive enzymes into the small intestines to help with digestion. It is also instrumental in releasing both insulin and glucagon into the blood, which influences metabolism and determines how effectively the body turns food into energy; however, certain lifestyle choices and health problems could lead to an attack of pancreatitis.
What is pancreatitis?
This condition is rather rare and occurs when the pancreas is inflamed. In most cases, this condition is acute and can be treated; however, sometimes it can become chronic. Damage to the pancreas will occur if the digestive enzymes are activated before the reach the intestines, causing the enzymes to destroy the pancreas.
What are the symptoms of pancreatitis?
Acute pancreatitis often causes upper abdominal pain that may get worse after eating and may radiate to your back. Your abdomen may be tender to the touch and you may feel nausea. Sometimes these symptoms are accompanied by a fever and rapid pulse.
Those who have chronic pancreatitis will notice the same abdominal pain that’s present in acute cases, as well as oily stools (known as steatorrhea) and unintended weight loss. If you are dealing with any kind of persistent abdominal pain it’s important to schedule an appointment with your gastroenterologist. If the pain is severe or makes it difficult to stand up straight, you need immediate medical attention.
Of course, there are many conditions and injuries that can lead to upper abdominal pain, so it’s important that you consult your doctor as soon as possible. If it is pancreatitis, this will often require hospitalization, so this requires immediate medical attention.
What causes pancreatitis?
There are certain conditions and habits that can increase your likelihood for developing pancreatitis including:
- Cystic fibrosis
- High calcium levels (usually occurs in those with hyperparathyroidism)
- High triglyceride levels
- Abdominal surgery
- Pancreatic cancer
Sometimes the cause of pancreatitis is unknown. However, it is possible for this condition to lead to more serious complications such as an infection, diabetes or kidney failure if it isn’t properly treated.
How is pancreatitis treated?
As we mentioned above, most people with pancreatitis will need to be hospitalized. During hospitalization, the treatment plan will include:
- Fasting for a couple of days (this will help your pancreas recover)
- Pain medications
- IV fluids
Once we have addressed your condition, we will then try to find the root cause. Based on the cause we may recommend additional treatment or surgeries including:
- Surgery to remove obstructions of the bile duct
- Pancreas surgery to drain fluid and remove diseased tissue
- Gallbladder removal (if gallstones caused your pancreatitis)
- Quitting alcohol or finding an alcohol treatment program
If you are dealing with unexplained abdominal pain or other digestive problems it’s important that you turn to a gastroenterologist who can figure out what’s going on. Call to schedule an appointment today.
7 Tips for Dealing With Indigestion
Suffering from indigestion? Most people have indigestion at some point in their lives. Indigestion, also called dyspepsia, is defined as a persistent or recurrent pain or discomfort in the upper abdomen. The symptoms of indigestion can include abdominal pain, gas, belching, nausea, vomiting, or burning in the upper abdomen or stomach. Here are 7 tips for dealing with indigestion.
1. Keep a food diary. The best way to treat indigestion is to prevent it by avoiding the foods that seem to cause indigestion. Keep a food diary to work out what drinks and foods are triggers for you. Writing down what you ate and the time you ate it can help you deduce what it is that’s causing your symptoms. When possible limit these triggers - common ones include chocolate, caffeine, and spicy food.
2. Eat less. Overeating and late-night meals are the top two triggers that affect many people with indigestion. Eating five small meals per day can help. Breaking down your daily food intake into five small meals makes lighter work for your digestive system. It’s also a good idea not to eat right before bed.
3. Eat slowly. It’s not just what you eat that can cause indigestion; it’s also how quickly you eat. Sit down when you eat your meals. Take your time, chew thoroughly, and give yourself at least 20 minutes before you carry on with your day. Try to avoid lying down too soon after eating.
4. Limit caffeine. If you drink too much caffeine, you may develop indigestion as a side effect. Cut back on your daily fix to see if that helps reduce your symptoms. Caffeine affects your central nervous system and increases stomach acid production. According to Michigan State University, people who drink too much caffeine can develop abdominal pain, heartburn, diarrhea, belching, nausea, and vomiting.
5. Exercise. Exercise can help promote healthy digestion. A recent study shows that exercise can help reduce many digestive problems. In one study, scientists found a link between lack of exercise, obesity, abdominal pain, and symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. Regular cardiovascular exercise like walking and cycling also helps strengthen abdominal muscles. Don't exercise with a full stomach. Do it before a meal or at least one hour after you eat.
6. Beware of air. Swallowing too much air while eating can cause indigestion. You can help avoid that by chewing with your mouth closed and talking less while eating. You may need to avoid sucking on hard candy or chewing gum, which can lower the amount of air you swallow. If heartburn or acid reflux makes you swallow more frequently, antacids may help.
7. See your doctor. If your indigestion lasts longer than 2 weeks, you should see a gasterontologist. Treatment for indigestion depends on the cause and may include lifestyle changes, medications, and psychological therapies. If stress is causing your symptoms, your doctor may recommend ways to help you reduce your stress, such as relaxation exercises, meditation, or counseling.
Indigestion can significantly diminish your quality of life. Stand up to indigestion and start enjoying life again. Find a board certified gastroenterologist near you and schedule a consultation. Treatment for indigestion will ease your pain and help you get back to a happy and healthy life!
What is a Flexible Sigmoidoscopy?
A flexible sigmoidoscopy is a critical diagnostic tool to evaluate the health of your large intestine, or colon. An ultra-thin, flexible tube called a sigmoidoscope is inserted in the rectum and guided up through the intestine.
The tube contains a tiny camera at the end which provides the doctor with a view of your sigmoid colon, which is the last two feet of the large intestine. The sigmoidoscope also allows the doctor to take samples of tissue for later biopsy. Tissue biopsy is the definitive way to determine whether there are precancerous or cancerous changes in your tissue cells.
The sigmoidoscopy procedure is often combined with a colonoscopy because the sigmoidoscope doesn’t show the entire colon, only the lower portion. Sigmoidoscopy may be recommended over colonoscopy because it often doesn’t require anesthesia and is a faster procedure than colonoscopy.
A flexible sigmoidoscopy can be used to determine the cause of intestinal problems like abdominal pain and bowel issues like diarrhea and constipation. It is also used to look for abnormal growths or polyps. It is also a vital tool to screen for colon and rectal cancer.
Flexible sigmoidoscopy may be recommended if you are over 50 years old to help detect colon and rectal cancer in the early stages, when it is the most treatable. Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. Each year, about 150,000 new cases are diagnosed in this country, and 50,000 people will die of the disease.
The flexible sigmoidoscopy procedure is a safe, effective way to determine the health of your sigmoid colon. It is a vital tool in maintaining your good health. If you are having abdominal issues, or you are at least 50 years old, a flexible sigmoidoscopy can help you. Your doctor can tell you more about flexible sigmoidoscopy and other procedures to help you feel better.
Though many people never know they have one due to lack of symptoms, a hiatal hernia can cause complications which can affect your daily life. Knowing the signs and symptoms of this condition can help you spot its presence, alert your gastroenterologist, and get the treatment you need.
What is a hiatal hernia?
Your chest and abdomen are separated by a large muscle called the diaphragm. The esophagus passes through a small opening in the diaphragm and brings food from the mouth, down the throat, and into the stomach. A hiatal hernia occurs when the stomach pushes through the hole and begins bulging out of the other side, into the chest. Though small hiatal hernias are often nothing to worry about and do not produce symptoms, larger hernias may cause potentially serious complications.
Do I have a hiatal hernia?
A small hernia often does not produce any symptoms at all. However, larger hernias can cause some issues that can affect your day-to-day life:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Chest or abdominal pain
- Regurgitation of foods (into the mouth)
- Acid reflux
- Vomiting blood or passing black stool
- Shortness of breath
If you think you have a hiatal hernia, you should see your doctor to ensure that you receive the care you need.
How does a gastroenterologist diagnose a hiatal hernia?
It is not uncommon for a gastroenterologist to find a hernia while investigating the cause of heartburn, abdominal pain, or other symptoms. Some diagnostic tools they may use include x-rays or upper endoscopy. They will also gather your medical, family, and lifestyle history to further investigate the cause of your symptoms.
Hiatal Hernia Treatments
If a person with a hernia does not experience any symptoms or complications, they may not need any treatment at all. However, if the patient begins experiencing discomfort, their doctor will probably suggest beginning treatment for their condition. Medications, such as antacids or medication to reduce the body’s acid production, can help with symptoms of a hernia. In more severe cases, a surgical procedure to repair a hernia or make the hole in the diaphragm smaller may become necessary.
Your gastroenterologist can help you find the best treatment plan for you. If you think you have a hernia or are experiencing uncomfortable symptoms such as recurrent acid reflux or heartburn, you should speak with your doctor.
Ulcerative colitis is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes severe and even bloody diarrhea that can result in abdominal pain and unexpected weight loss. While people have probably heard about Crohn’s disease more often than they have ulcerative colitis, this condition actually affects as many as 907,000 of the 1.6 million Americans living with IBD.
While ulcerative colitis can happen to anyone, a gastroenterologist most often diagnoses it during a person’s later teen years or by early adulthood. While there is no definitive cause of ulcerative colitis, a family history of this condition can certainly increase your chances of developing this chronic GI problem.
Those with ulcerative colitis experience diarrhea, which can be bloody at times. Some patients may experience rectal pain, occasional constipation, abdominal discomfort, fever, or weight loss. In order to diagnose this gastrointestinal issue, a GI specialist will often need to perform imaging tests such as a CT scan or run an endoscopy to check the health of the gastrointestinal tract and to look for signs of ulcerative colitis.
While there is currently no cure for this condition, there are certainly an array of medications and treatment options available to help you keep your symptoms and flare-ups in check. The type of treatment plan that your GI doctor will create for you will depend on the type and severity of your symptoms.
The main goals of treating ulcerative colitis are to reduce inflammation within the colon while also speeding up the remission process and making sure that your symptoms stay in remission for as long as possible. Of course, it is still possible, even with the right medication, to experience symptoms.
Common medications for treating ulcerative colitis include:
- Antibiotics: to target any infections within the GI tract
- Aminosalicylates: to treat mild to moderate inflammation within the colon
- Corticosteroids: for short-term treatment of moderate to severe symptoms
- Biologics: to target a specific protein, which leads to inflammation
Sometimes, over-the-counter medications and supplements may be used in conjunction with prescription medications. These may include vitamins and nutritional supplements, pain medications and antidiarrheal. If your ulcerative colitis doesn’t respond to these medications then you’ll want to discuss the benefits with your gastroenterologist of getting surgery to remove parts of the colon or rectum to alleviate severe or persistent symptoms.
You would love to just be able to sit down and enjoy a meal, but you know that not long afterward you are going to be dealing with the burning, gnawing pain in your stomach caused by heartburn. No matter if this is something that you have been facing for a while or this is a new issue you are dealing with, it’s important that you have a gastroenterologist that can help you figure out what’s going on.
It’s important to understand that heartburn isn’t a condition but a symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), in which stomach acid travels back up through the esophagus causing burning and irritation of the esophageal lining.
So, what are the leading culprits of heartburn? There are quite a few things that could cause this issue including:
Certain foods or drinks: Everything from alcohol and caffeine to acidic and spicy foods can exacerbate heartburn symptoms. Diets that are high in fatty or fried foods can also make heartburn worse.
Medications: There are certain over-the-counter medications that can also cause heartburn to flare-up.
Smoking: Smoking cigarettes can actually affect how the lower esophageal sphincter functions, allowing stomach acid to travel back through the esophagus.
A hiatal hernia: A condition in which some of the stomach protrudes into the chest.
Pregnancy: Pressure placed on the abdomen during pregnancy could increase your chances of heartburn.
Obesity: Having any additional pressure placed on the abdomen, which is common if you are overweight or obese, can bring on a nasty bout of heartburn.
Fortunately, there are many ways in which to reduce the severity and frequency of heartburn. Turning to a GI specialist is the best approach, as they can provide you with a variety of lifestyle changes and medications based on your symptoms, current health, lifestyle, and how much damage has already taken place within the esophagus.
From there, they will create a tailored treatment plan with a medication that will either greatly lessen the amount of acid the stomach produces or temporarily block stomach acid from being produced to help promote healing within the esophagus.
Lifestyle changes may include eating smaller meals, not eating right before bedtime, avoiding exacerbating foods or drinks, losing excess weight, and quitting smoking.
Don’t let heartburn make you dread sitting down to enjoy your favorite meals. There are so many ways in which to get your heartburn symptoms under control. If you are having trouble finding the right treatment option for you don’t hesitate to turn to a gastroenterologist for guidance and treatment.
Chances are good you’ve heard of a colonoscopy before, whether through a health report on the news or because you know someone who had to get one. A colonoscopy is a diagnostic procedure and often a screening tool that allows your gastroenterologist to be able to see what the lining of the colon and intestines looks. A thin scope is inserted into the rectum and carefully directed through the lower intestines. The scope has a camera at the end that allows your doctor to pinpoint potential problems with the lining of the intestines or colon. There are a few reasons why your doctor might recommend getting a colonoscopy.
If a patient comes in complaining of abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, or persistent diarrhea and these symptoms can’t be explained through a routine exam and testing then your GI doctor may recommend performing a colonoscopy to be able to determine the root cause for these symptoms. This might be particularly helpful if you or a family member has a history of colon cancer or colon polyps.
Even if you are feeling fine, both men and women, once they reach 50-years-old, will need to start getting routine colonoscopies to screen for colon polyps and other signs of colorectal cancer. A colonoscopy is one of the most effective screening tools a gastroenterologist has for being able to pinpoint warning signs of cancer with the large intestines and colon. No other screening tool will be able to provide the detailed imaging that a colonoscopy can.
If the results of your routine colonoscopy come back normal then you probably won’t need to repeat the procedure for another 10 years. If one or more polyps were detected during your colonoscopy your GI specialist may choose to remove them during the procedure but may recommend that you come in more regularly for a colonoscopy.
You may also need to have this procedure performed more often if you have a family or personal history of colon cancer or colon polyps. It’s important to be upfront about your detailed medical history when talking to a gastrointestinal specialist to determine the best colonoscopy schedule to protect your digestive health.
No matter if you are experiencing distressing intestinal symptoms or you just turned 50-years-old, it’s a good idea to turn to a gastrointestinal specialist who can provide you with the individualized care you need. Remember, getting a colonoscopy after you turn 50 could just end up saving your life!
People in commercials love to talk about diarrhea and constipation, but in real life, the subjects are rarely discussed, even though they affect us all. Understanding what causes the conditions may help you avoid them.
What causes diarrhea?
Diarrhea occurs when your stools are loose, runny or completely watery. Although occasional diarrhea won't harm your health, frequent diarrhea can lead to dehydration. The condition is often caused by viruses or bacterial infections. Washing your hands frequently, particularly after touching raw foods, and cooking food completely can help reduce your chance of developing diarrhea. If you know a friend or family member is sick or has diarrhea, don't share utensils or glasses with them.
Diarrhea can also occur due to stomach irritation caused by taking antibiotics or by an intolerance to certain foods. Lactose intolerance, a condition that occurs when you have difficulty digesting sugars found in dairy products, is a common cause of diarrhea. If you've ever had to dash to the restroom after eating ice cream or pasta covered in creamy Alfredo sauce, you might have lactose intolerance.
Some health conditions can also cause diarrhea, including diabetes, celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, hyperthyroidism, inflammatory bowel disease, chronic pancreatitis and Addison's disease.
What causes constipation?
If you're constipated, it may be difficult or impossible to pass stools. Even if your trip to the restroom is successful, the stools you produce may be small and hard. Diet can play a part in constipation. Reducing your intake of dairy products, caffeine, alcohol and junk food can be helpful.
Resisting the urge to defecate can lead to constipation. If you're at work and decide to ignore the urge to go, you may not be able to produce any stools when you finally get home. Constipation can also occur if you change your diet or normal routine, don't exercise regularly or eat foods that aren't usually part of your diet when you're away from home.
Some health conditions can also cause constipation, including
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Parkinson's disease
- Multiple sclerosis
- Spinal cord injury
Occasional bouts of diarrhea and constipation are usually nothing to worry about, particularly if they accompany an illness. If you're frequently constipated or experience diarrhea often, it's a good idea to make an appointment with a gastroenterologist, a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating conditions and diseases of the gastrointestinal system.
Cancerous carcinoid tumors form in the lining of your gastrointestinal tract and can be caused by certain digestive conditions. The rare tumors are often treated with surgery and medications.
What are carcinoid tumors?
Carcinoid tumors develop when a mutation occurs in the neuroendocrine cells in your digestive system. The dual-purpose cells have both nerve and endocrine features and are capable of producing hormones. Over time, the cancerous cells gradually take over healthy cells and form a tumor. Carcinoid tumors tend to form in the colon, stomach, small intestine or rectum.
Who gets carcinoid tumors?
If anyone in your family has had multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 syndrome (MEN1) or neurofibromatosis type 1 syndrome (NF1), you may be at greater risk of developing a carcinoid tumor. Your risk also rises if you have Zollinger-Ellison syndrome, pernicious anemia or atrophic gastritis. Older people and women are more likely to develop carcinoid tumors.
What are the symptoms of carcinoid tumors?
There are often no symptoms when a carcinoid tumor is small. In fact, you may only learn that you have a tumor after undergoing a routine colonoscopy or another diagnostic test. Symptoms may occur if the tumor secretes hormones or grows larger. Symptoms depend on the location of the tumor, but may include:
- Pain in the abdomen
- Unexplained weight loss
- Rectal pain
- Stool color changes or blood in the stool
- Abdominal pain
How are carcinoid tumors treated?
Surgery is used to remove all or as much of the tumor as possible. Medications may also be helpful. Depending on your condition, your gastroenterologist may recommend interferon injections that enhance the immune system's ability to attack the tumor or medications that prevent the tumor from releasing hormones.
If your carcinoid tumor has spread to your liver, your gastroenterologist can offer several other treatment options, including cryoablation (freezing) or radiofrequency (heat) treatments to kill the cancer cells. Removing part of the liver during a surgical procedure may be helpful, as can closing off the hepatic artery that feeds the tumor.
Although most gastrointestinal symptoms aren't caused by cancer, it's important to see your gastroenterologist if you experience frequent heartburn, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, bloating or other symptoms.
Ulcerative colitis, a type of inflammatory bowel disease, causes painful open sores in your large intestine and rectum. The disease can affect both children and adults. Although there is currently no cure for ulcerative colitis, symptoms can be managed with medications and dietary changes in many cases.
What are the symptoms of ulcerative colitis?
Although symptoms of ulcerative colitis vary depending on the severity of the disease, diarrhea that contains blood or pus is a frequent problem. It may be difficult to get the bathroom in time, particularly if a bout of diarrhea strikes in the middle of the night. Other symptoms can include:
- Abdominal cramping and pain
- Joint pain
- Weight loss
- Canker sores
- Rectal pain
- Difficulty defecating
If you have severe ulcerative colitis, you may be more likely to develop one or more serious complications, such as severe dehydration or bleeding, a perforated colon, osteoporosis, megacolon, blood clots or colon cancer.
What are the risk factors for ulcerative colitis?
Ulcerative colitis symptoms usually appear between the ages of 15 and 35. You're more likely to develop ulcerative colitis if other people in your family have it. Your ancestry may also affect your risk. Caucasians and people of Ashkenazi Jewish descent get the disease more often than other ethnic groups.
How is ulcerative colitis treated?
Medications that relieve inflammation and suppress your immune system can be helpful if you have ulcerative colitis. Corticosteroids may also reduce inflammation and bring about a remission of symptoms. Because prolonged use of corticosteroids can cause high blood pressure, diabetes and osteoporosis, they're only recommended for short-term use. Anti-diarrheal medications can reduce the frequency of diarrhea, while iron supplements may prevent anemia caused by bleeding.
Approximately 25 to 40 percent of people who have ulcerative colitis will eventually need surgery to remove the colon, according to the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation. In some cases, your surgeon may be able to connect to your small intestine to your anus, which will allow you to defecate normally. If that's not possible, a bag attached to the abdomen will be used to collect stool.
Ulcerative colitis is a serious inflammatory bowel disease, but it's symptoms can often be managed with medication, dietary changes and stress relief techniques, allowing you to live a fairly normal life.
Many people develop hemorrhoids at some point, particularly between the ages of 45-65. Hemorrhoids are typically associated with pain, discomfort, itching and irritation around the anus. They can also result in pain and discomfort during bowel movements. As uncomfortable as hemorrhoids can be, there are treatments that can help. See a gastroenterologist if you suspect you might have hemorrhoids. If a gastroenterologist determines you do have hemorrhoids, an appropriate treatment can be prescribed to ease the pain and discomfort.
The exact cause of hemorrhoids is not necessarily known, but several factors or conditions do seem to increase the likelihood of development hemorrhoids. Factors associated with an increased risk for development hemorrhoids include:
- Family history of hemorrhoids
- Chronic constipation
- Sitting for extended periods
- Straining during bowel movements
Hemorrhoids often go away on their own, even without treatment. However, there are various options to ease the pain and discomfort of hemorrhoids. A gastroenterologist might recommend a variety of methods for easing the pain at home. These include taking over-the-counter pain relievers, and fiber supplements for softening stools. Other things that can help provide relief include soaking in a warm bath and applying a cold compress to the anus to reduce swelling.
In addition to at home remedies for alleviating the pain and discomfort of hemorrhoids, there are medical procedures a gastroenterologist can perform to reduce the size of the hemorrhoids. Two popular procedures for treating hemorrhoids include a rubber band ligation and injection therapy. These procedures can be performed if other treatments and remedies have not provided substantial relief.
When struggling with hemorrhoids, the itching, irritation, pain and discomfort can interfere with your quality of life. Fortunately, there are treatments that can provide relief and even reduce the size of the hemorrhoids. See a gastroenterologist for the treatment of your hemorrhoids.
Gastroenterologists are concerned with conditions that affect the stomach, intestinal tract, colon and other organs involved in digestion and waste elimination. These conditions include certain types of cancer, biliary tract disease, ulcers and Irritable Bowel Syndrome. The test that checks for these potential health issues is called an endoscopy. There are several different endoscopic procedures that allow your doctor to check the digestive system, including a colonoscopy, enteroscopy and an upper gastrointestinal endoscopy. Find out more about getting an endoscopy and whether it’s time for you to have this test.
What Is an Endoscopy?
During an endoscopy, a long tube is inserted into an orifice (usually the mouth or anus) to look at the organs of the body. The tube, called an endoscope, has a camera that allows your doctor to view the targeted area. In the case of a colonoscopy, the endoscope is inserted into the rectum and provides a visual of your colon and intestines. An enteroscopy views the small intestine and an upper GI endoscopy looks at the parts of your upper intestinal tract, including the esophagus.
What Does an Endoscopy Detect?
An endoscopy can detect polyps (benign and precancerous) as well as cancerous tumors. It can also identify the presence of ulcers, inflammation and other damage to the wall of the intestines or stomach. An upper GI endoscopy can determine the cause of heartburn, chest pain and problems swallowing your food. In some cases, polyps or objects can be removed during the procedure or tissue samples may be taken. A stent can also be inserted in restricted areas of the stomach, esophagus or intestinal tract.
Do You Need this Test?
Here are a few indications that you should see your gastroenterologist soon for an endoscopy:
- You have intense pain in the abdomen or have been diagnosed with digestive problems
- You have severe acid reflux or chronic heartburn
- You feel as if there is some type of blockage in your intestinal tract (such as long-term constipation)
- There’s blood in the stool
- There’s a family history of colon cancer
- You’re over the age of 50
See Your Gastroenterologist
An endoscopy is not a test that you want to delay long if you’re concerned about your stomach, colon and digestive health. Call a gastroenterologist in your area to schedule an initial consultation and exam today.
When it comes to matters involving your digestive tract, stomach, and colon, a gastroenterologist is the doctor to consult with. GI specialists also help patients with matters involving the pancreas, gallbladder, liver and other organs involved in the elimination of waste. Here are some of the most common frequently asked questions that patients have for gastroenterologists.
What Does a Gastroenterologist Do?
A gastroenterologist is tasked with studying, managing and treating disorders involving the gastrointestinal tract. They diagnose potential problems that stand in the way of your body’s ability to comfortably and easily digest food, move it through the body and get rid of waste. It’s important that your gastrointestinal system is healthy so that your body absorbs the nutrition it needs for energy and vitality. GI doctors undergo rigorous training in this specialized area of medicine for five or six years after medical school.
What Tests Are Needed?
There are a number of tests that a gastroenterologist may recommend depending on your digestive concerns. Here are a few of the most common ones:
- Colonoscopy (checks rectum, colon, and intestinal tract)
- Upper GI endoscopy (checks esophagus and upper gastro system)
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy (similar to a colonoscopy, but only examines a portion of the colon)
- Endoscopic or abdominal ultrasound
- Abdominal Angiogram
- CT enterography
What Treatments Are Administered?
If a problem is identified in the gastrointestinal tract or system, there are a number of possible solutions your GI doctor may explore:
- Polyp removal (done with an endoscope)
- Esophageal, colonic, duodenal or bile duct stent placement (allows the comfortable passage of bodily fluids, solids, and waste)
- Cecostomy (clears bowels)
- Surgical procedures (such as bowel surgery, appendectomy, colostomy, proctectomy, gastric bypass surgery, etc)
Ask More Questions at Your Initial Appointment
Whatever specific questions you may have for a gastroenterologist, they are best addressed at your first visit. You should make this important appointment when recommended by your primary physician or when you have symptoms of a GI problem (bleeding, chronic constipation or diarrhea, heartburn and similar concerns), Call a gastroenterologist in your area to schedule a consultation today.