Dr. Starpoli's Blog

5 Signs You Need to Visit Your Gastroenterologist ASAP

Posted by Anthony A. Starpoli, MD on Dec 17, 2019 11:31:40 PM

Your gastrointestinal system is extremely important to your overall health and well being. This can be accompanied by obesity, which is a risk factor for several conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

If you've been feeling discomfort or other symptoms, maybe your gut might be trying to tell you something. Have you been taking over-the-counter medicine without lasting relief? Maybe its time you considered visiting a gastroenterologist.

Your problems might be best treated by a GI doctor who specializes in these kinds of conditions. Check out this list for five signs that you should see a gastroenterologist ASAP.

What Does a GI Doctor Do?

A gastroenterologist is a specialist in diagnosing and treating conditions and diseases of the GI tract. They can perform special tests and procedures for less common GI conditions.

Five Signs You Should See A GI Doctor

Sometimes, it might be more than just a tummy ache. Here are signs to look out for.

1. Diarrhea and Constipation

Diarrhea can manifest as an increased urge to defecate, going more frequently than usual, or having a stool that more liquid than normal.

On the other hand, constipation happens when you struggle to defecate. Maybe you only go once or twice a week. When you go, you may notice hard stools that require straining to pass.

Possible Causes

Diarrhea can be due to an infection like a virus or E. coli. It can simply happen because of a large, greasy meal that was difficult to digest, such as occurs after eating too much Taco Bell. 

Other people may have specific food allergies or enzyme deficiencies that cause them to have diarrhea and bloating every time you eat a certain food. It may not be so easy to identify so a gastroenterologist may help you figure out whats going on.

However, if you have diarrhea lasting more than just a few days, you should probably seek professional help. Also, if there is any blood, mucus, or discoloration of the stool, get a doctor as soon as possible.

2. Weight Change

An unexpected change in weight should always raise concern. Sometimes, it can be caused by simple changes in diet and exercise but there could be something more.

Although there is always going to be some normal fluctuation, an unintentional change of more than 5% over six to twelve months could be a cause of concern. So, for example, if you weighed 150 pounds six months ago but now you weigh 140 pounds or less, you might want to see a professional.

Weight Loss

There are many causes of unwanted weight loss. Diarrhea can cause weight loss over a period of time. Also, there are diseases that prevent the GI tract from properly absorbing food.

This prevents us from putting on weight and can lead to vitamin deficiency.

Rarely, unexplained weight loss can be a symptom of non-GI diseases, like cancer. Either way, it is something that shouldn't go ignored.

Weight Gain

Millions of Americans struggle with obesity. A gastroenterologist can determine the cause and help you find treatment that may involve dietary guidance, drug therapy, or nonsurgical, incisionless procedures to help you lose weight.

Weight gain could be a sign of a medical condition, such as hypothyroidism or ascites.

Other causes, however, other causes may be treated with medical procedures,  such as endoscopic sleeve gastroplasty (ESG) or weight loss balloons.

3. Nausea and Vomiting

Nausea and vomiting make up some of the most common reasons people see digestive system doctors. There are many causes so the physician will have to perform a systematic check to rule out the most dangerous and then the most common causes.

This is something that must be treated quickly. Uncontrolled fluid and electrolyte loss can lead to dehydration, weakness, seizures, and even death. A trip to see a stomach specialist is definitely warranted.

Possible Causes

Many cases are caused by eating something that went bad. Ensure that the food you eat is properly handled and washed before consumption. Failure to do so can lead to food poisoning, gastroenteritis, and other infections.

Sometimes, nausea can be due to other severe medical conditions, infections, drug intoxications, or even medication side effects. People with liver problems often feel nausea.

Rare, serious causes include cancer and HIV.

4. Jaundice

Also, known as icterus, jaundice is a condition in which the skin and eyes develop a yellowish tint due to the excess of a chemical called bilirubin. 

Depending on the levels of bilirubin, the person might have a barely noticeable coloration in the eyes only. People with severe cases can have skin with a yellow tint that even an untrained observer could notice in passing.

Painless jaundice can be associated with pancreatic cancer.

What is Bilirubin?

Bilirubin is a byproduct of the metabolism of red blood cells or erythrocytes. As they get older (about 120 days after being born from the bone marrow), they are taken to the liver to be processed into bilirubin in several steps.

Then, they are partially excreted in the urine and the stools. The rest can be reutilized by the body.

Causes of Jaundice

There are numerous causes of this condition. Most, however, fall into one of the following categories. 

Increased hemolysis, or destruction of red blood cells, means that more bilirubin will be produced. This often presents with anemia.

Other causes include enzyme deficiencies, liver conditions, and gall bladder disease. Some causes can be treated with medication but others may require surgery. 

5. Cancer Warning Signs

There are several signs that you should never ignore. Weight loss and painless jaundice can be signs of hidden malignancy. Also, difficulty swallowing can be a sign of esophageal cancer due to chronic reflux.

Colon cancers were usually seen in older men. However, there has been a recent spike in young women presenting with this condition so don't hesitate to seek a GI doctor. 

Gastroenterologists have experience dealing with GI cancer and rare, hereditary conditions, like Lynch Syndrome. They may perform colonoscopy or take biopsies depending on the case.

The most recent guidelines suggest having colon cancer screening with colonoscopy now starting at the age of 45 instead of waiting until age 50.

Should You See a Gastroenterologist?

If you've been experienced diarrhea, constipation, or other GI symptoms, you might need to see a gastroenterologist. Also, they can help you with weight loss solutions if you have extra pounds you need to lose.

Consider seeing a GI doctor right away. The above list is not exhaustive. Check out this patient-oriented blog on the latest in gastroenterology issues. 5 Signs You Need to Visit Your Gastroenterologist ASAP

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