What is Gastroenterology?
A gastroenterologist is a doctor that specializes in the normal function and diseases of the digestive tract, which includes the stomach, intestines, spleen, pancreas, and liver. As a specialty, gastroenterology is the study of how food moves through the body, how nutrients are absorbed by the body, and how waste is removed by the body. A few of the conditions that a gastroenterologist might treat are:
ulcerative colitis (a condition where inflammation and sores affect the lower intestine)
gallbladder disease (where bile stored in the gallbladder thickens and causes inflammation or gallstones)
gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD (stomach acid flows back into the throat and causes a burning sensation and tissue damage)
One unique trait that really sets gastroenterologists apart is their training and skill with endoscopy, a procedure where tiny flexible tubes are inserted into the body. These tubes are equipped with lights and cameras to provide the practitioner with a close, inside look at what is going on inside the patient’s body. Tools can even be inserted through the tubes to perform certain procedures, such as removing polyps or cancers, stretching open passageways that have narrowed, or applying lasers to stop bleeding.
Gastroenterologists do not perform surgery, but they do perform endoscopic procedures, as well as biopsies to determine if cancer is affecting the digestive tract. Although other physicians can use endoscopes, gastroenterologists devote a significant portion of their medical training and practice to endoscopy. They learn how and when to use endoscopy, the safest and most efficient methods to use, and how to interpret what they see through the endoscope.
What is Pediatric Gastroenterology?
The digestive system is how our bodies convert food into energy. It is made up of the liver, pancreas, gallbladder, esophagus, stomach, and intestines. Physicians who treat problems in a child’s digestive system, especially diseases of the liver, are called pediatric gastroenterologists.
Children are not just smaller versions of adult patients. Their digestive systems are different, and they may not be as able to describe their symptoms and concerns to a doctor. More importantly, a disease that interferes with the ability to obtain adequate nutrition can be much more serious for children, with their growing bodies, than it is for adults.
Pediatric gastroenterologists use tools such as biopsy (taking a small sample of tissue to examine under a microscope), endoscopy (examining the inside of the digestive tract using a thin, flexible tube), or colonoscopy (examining the lower intestines using a thin, flexible tube). Some of the disorders they encounter include:
Bleeding in the digestive tract
Liver disease and transplants
Hepatitis, an infection of the liver
Irritable bowel disease
Severe heartburn, called GERD
Lactose intolerance and severe food allergies
Severe, chronic, or unexplained abdominal pain, vomiting, or diarrhea
Nutritional disorders, including failure to thrive (FTT) and malnutrition
Feeding disorders, including refusal of food, gagging, and trouble swallowing
With such a wide variety of disorders, treatments are also varied. Some include nutrition management plans, medications, or feeding tubes.
Pediatric gastroenterologists play an important role in helping kids comfortably eat and digest food so they can grow up healthy.
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