How upsetting is your upset stomach? We all get tummy aches from time to time. Everything from spicy food to job stress can interfere with our insides. It’s the ongoing issues that cause concern. If you’ve presented your problems to your primary care physician and been referred to a specialist, chances are your next doctor’s appointment is with a gastroenterologist. So what will happen during your first visit to a Gastroenterologist, aka GI doctor and how should you prepare?
What is a GI Specialist?
A GI is a medical doctor who after completing eight years of undergraduate university and medical school education spends another six years in formal training. This includes several years in an internal medicine residency program working under a doctor’s guidance at a clinic or teaching hospital. They go on to spend three years completing a fellowship in order to become a gastrointestinal (GI) specialist. In the United States they must pass a medical licensing examination along with earning a state medical license. This qualifies them to diagnose and treat digestive system issues that can affect your stomach, intestines, and colon among others. Although they don’t perform what we consider traditional surgery, they typically do procedures involving endoscopes––flexible tubes equipped with lights and cameras that can examine your colon, stomach, intestines, and other internal organs.
When you make your appointment with your Gastroenterologist, you should come prepared. Keep a record of your symptoms including the date and time they occurred along with anything unusual that happened. Your medical journal should also include information about what you eat and drink, as well as the treatments you have used. Finally, make a list of questions you want to ask the GI. When you are at the office, it’s normal to forget things and having them written down will be very helpful. You may also want to bring along a trusted friend or family member for support. Before your appointment, create a one-page summary that includes your personal info, any prior diagnoses of your condition, surgeries, medications, and herbal or other supplements that you are taking. Note anything that has happened recently that could affect your health along with future plans. Finally, include the contact information for your primary physician and pharmacy. Having all this info handy will make filling out forms at the GI’s office much easier.
At the GI’s Office
Upon arrival, you will likely be greeted by a nurse who will take your blood pressure, heart rate, etc. You’ll also be given forms to fill out. You may be asked to provide a detailed medical history both for yourself and family members. This can help the GI focus on the problem. It’s important to include a family history of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or colon cancer, for example.
The GI will likely examine your stomach, feeling for masses or obstructions and listening for unusual sounds. You may be asked to take deep breaths or cough. They may also insert a finger into your rectum to see if there are any abnormalities. They may schedule a follow-up for endoscopic procedures like upper endoscopy, colonoscopy or an imaging study to further examine your complaints.
If you have persistent heartburn, trouble swallowing, bloody stool, or any ongoing tummy troubles, you should speak with your primary care physician, as you may need to see a Gastroenterologist.
Written by John Bankston