A gastroenterologist is a qualified doctor who specialises in taking care of the gastrointestinal tract and liver. The gastrointestinal tract includes any part of the body that plays a part in the digestive system, from the mouth to the anus. However, dentists and mouth specialists will typically take care of the mouth instead of a gastroenterologist. Gastroenterologists work to diagnose, treat and prevent conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, gastrointestinal cancers, hepatitis and jaundice. To diagnose these or other conditions, they may carry out tests such as a colonoscopy, endoscopy or x-ray. When diagnosing illnesses such as inflammatory bowel syndrome they might also enquire into a patient’s mental health. A gastroenterologist can make dietary and lifestyle recommendations or prescribe medication to prevent or manage conditions of the digestive tract. They may also determine whether surgery is needed to treat, for example, inflammatory bowel disease or gastrointestinal cancers.
If you experience a change in your bowel habits which have resulted in symptoms such as diarrhoea, constipation, blood in your stool or dark urine, then you should go and see your GP. They will then refer you to a gastroenterologist if appropriate. You might be referred to a gastroenterologist depending on the severity of these symptoms, how persistent they have been and if they are causing significant pain or discomfort. These symptoms can be indicative of many conditions such as inflammatory bowel syndrome, gastrointestinal cancers, food intolerance or liver disease. You should also arrange to see a gastroenterologist if you have been previously diagnosed with a condition of the digestive tract or liver and have noticed a change in or return of your systems, or if you feel your condition is worsening and prescribed medications are not making a difference.