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A gastroenterologist is a physician with dedicated training and unique experience in the management of diseases of the digestive system and liver. Gastroenterology is the study of the normal function and diseases of the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, colon and rectum, pancreas, gallbladder, bile ducts and liver. It involves a detailed understanding of the normal action of the gastrointestinal organs including the movement of material through the stomach and intestine, the digestion and absorption of nutrients into the body, removal of waste from the system, and the function of the liver as a digestive organ.
Common and important conditions treated include colon polyps and cancer, hepatitis, gastroesophageal reflux (heartburn), peptic ulcer disease, colitis, gallbladder and biliary tract disease, nutritional problems, bowel problems, and pancreatitis.
Endoscopy (upper endoscopy, sigmoidoscopy, and colonoscopy) is the use of narrow, flexible lighted tubes with built-in video cameras, to visualize the inside of the intestinal tract. Advanced endoscopic procedures such as polypectomy (removal of colon polyps), esophageal and intestinal dilation (stretching of narrowed areas), and hemostasis (injection or cautery to stop bleeding) are also performed.
GERD is a digestive disorder that affects the lower esophageal sphincter--the muscle connecting the esophagus with the stomach. Many people, including pregnant women, suffer from heartburn or acid indigestion caused by GERD. Some people suffer from GERD due to a condition called hiatal hernia. In most cases, heartburn can be relieved through diet and lifestyle changes; however, some people may require medication or surgery.
During normal digestion, food moves from the mouth down the esophagus into the stomach. The stomach produces hydrochloric acid and an enzyme called pepsin to digest the food. From the stomach, food passes into the upper part of the small intestine, called the duodenum, where digestion and nutrient absorption continue. An ulcer is a sore or lesion that forms in the lining of the stomach or duodenum where acid and pepsin are present. Ulcers in the stomach are called gastric or stomach ulcers. Those in the duodenum are called duodenal ulcers. In general, ulcers in the stomach and duodenum are referred to as peptic ulcers.
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a group of chronic disorders that cause inflammation or ulceration in the small and large intestines. Most often IBD is classified as ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease but may be referred to as colitis, enteritis, ileitis, and proctitis.
Ulcerative colitis causes ulceration and inflammation of the inner lining of the colon and rectum, while Crohn's disease is an inflammation that extends into the deeper layers of the intestinal wall. Crohn's disease also may affect other parts of the digestive tract, including the mouth, esophagus, stomach, and small intestine. Ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease cause similar symptoms that often resemble other conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome (spastic colitis). The correct diagnosis may take some time.
In ulcerative colitis, the inner lining of the large intestine (colon or bowel) and rectum becomes inflamed. The inflammation usually begins in the rectum and lower (sigmoid) intestine and spreads upward to the entire colon. Ulcerative colitis rarely affects the small intestine except for the lower section, the ileum. The inflammation causes the colon to empty frequently, resulting in diarrhea. As cells on the surface of the lining of the colon die and slough off, ulcers (tiny open sores) form, causing pus, mucus, and bleeding. An estimated 250,000 Americans have ulcerative colitis. It occurs most often in young people ages 15 to 40, although children and older people sometimes develop the disease. Ulcerative colitis affects males and females equally and appears to run in some families.