Diagnosing a gastrointestinal disorder (GI) is symptom based. The involved organs run between the mouth and the anus. The GI disorders range from simple heartburn to more a serious diagnosis of colorectal cancer or hepatitis.
There is a long and varied list of GI disorders, involving the upper and lower GI tracts, some of which are listed below:
- Colorectal cancer
- Diverticular disease: diverticulosis or diverticulitis
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Irritable bowel syndrome: Crohn's disease or colitis
GI conditions affect the organs within the system but have a cascading affect that involves care and treatment by many different physician specialists. Here are some of the many specialists and the conditions they treat:
- Primary care physician: Most patients begin the diagnostic process with their primary care physician (PCP) who performs the initial assessment and testing.
- Gastroenterologist: This board-certified physician specializes in diagnosing and treating GI disorders. This specialist does specialized diagnostic procedures, including colonoscopy and gastroscopy, which are currently called upper and lower endoscopy.
- Oncologist: A physician who is a specialist in the treatment of cancer diagnoses by ordering chemotherapy regimes, radiation therapy and other cancer care.
- Surgeon: Depending upon the cancer diagnosis, surgery is sometimes a treatment option. A skilled surgeon, often a specialist in the specific diseased area such as a colorectal surgeon, is a healthcare team member.
The Diagnostic Tests
Diagnosis of a GI condition begins with a physical examination by the PCP. Further testing is then ordered to attain a firm diagnosis and begin a treatment plan. Here are a few of the common diagnostic testing options:
- Stool occult blood test: checking stool sample for presence of blood
- Abdominal x-rays
- Ultrasound studies
- Colonoscopy and gastroscopy
- Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)
- Liver biopsy
- Barium swallow
- Computed tomography (CT scan)
- A variety of blood tests including complete blood count (CBC), liver function tests (LFT)
Depending upon the screening test results, a treatment plan for medical care will be formulated. There is a plethora of medical and surgical interventions for the many GI disorders.
Medical treatments include, but are not limited to:
- adding fiber to the diet
- a course of antibiotic therapy
- a special diet
- medications like proton pump inhibitors (Prilosec, Prevacid) or H2 blockers (Tagamet, Zantac)
- oral steroid therapy in some cases, depending upon the diagnosis
- chemotherapy or radiation for a cancer diagnosis
- quitting smoking and reducing alcohol intake
Surgical treatments can include:
- An office procedure with local anesthesia like perianal abscess drainage to a major operation like a bowel resection
It is important to follow the advice of your healthcare provider to attain the best results in treating all GI disorders.