Definition and Overview
A gastroenterology consultation is an appointment with a medical professional specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of conditions affecting the esophagus, stomach, small and large intestines, liver, pancreas, and gallbladder.
The purpose of the consultation is to diagnose an existing condition and is typically the first step towards treatment. In order to do so, the gastroenterologist may conduct or request for some tests during the appointment.
Who Should Undergo and Expected Results
Patients who experience symptoms related to or have existing gastrointestinal conditions should see a gastroenterologist. The consultation can help:
- Identify the root cause of their symptoms
- Diagnose or confirm a previous diagnosis (in cases where patients are seeking a second opinion)
- Enable the doctor to make a treatment plan
- Address existing symptoms
Patients may seek a consultation with a GI specialist upon experiencing some symptoms, which may include:
- Abdominal pain
- Sudden changes in bowel routine, such as constipation or diarrhea
- Sudden or unexplained weight loss or weight gain
- Chest pain
- Indigestion or dyspepsia
- Rectal bleeding
- Difficulty swallowing
- Gas or flatulence
Patients who suffer from the following conditions should seek a gastroenterology consultation at the soonest possible time:
- Esophageal disorders, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Ulcerative colitis
- Biliary tract disorders
- Liver disease, such as hepatitis
- Stomach cancer
- Colorectal cancer
There are different types of gastroenterologists, so it is also best to choose the one that specializes in the specific condition the patient is suffering from. For example, there are specialists focusing on liver-related conditions and there are pediatric gastroenterologists who are trained in treating younger patients.
At the end of the consultation, the gastroenterologist will produce a report containing details of the patient’s condition as well as a recommended treatment plan.
How Does the Procedure Work?
A gastroenterology consultation usually takes place in a gastroenterologist’s clinic or a hospital. It typically begins with a nurse or clinic staff taking the patient’s weight, blood pressure level, and heart rate, as well as asking the patient regarding his medications and allergies.
Once the consultation with the gastrointestinal specialist begins, the patient can expect to be asked questions regarding his medical history and that of his family. After all pertinent details are discussed, the doctor will begin a physical examination focusing on the abdominal region.
The consultation may also require or be followed by:
- Lab tests
- Blood work
- Motility tests
There are two types of endoscopic procedures used for gastrointestinal checkups. These are:
If the doctor has endoscopic equipment in his clinic or the appointment is conducted in a hospital, it is possible to undergo the procedures in the same day or location. If the necessary equipment is not available, the doctor may make some arrangements to help the patient secure an appointment for the said tests.
The whole visit will usually take around 30 minutes to an hour, or longer if several tests are needed. An initial gastroenterology consultation typically takes longer than subsequent visits because the doctor is not yet familiar with the patient’s condition.
Possible Risks and Complications
A gastroenterology consultation is the first step towards seeking treatment for existing or suspected gastrointestinal conditions. It helps protect the patient from the risks and complications of these conditions when they are left untreated. The consultation itself is a routine appointment that requires tests that are generally safe for patients. However, if the patient has to undergo endoscopic procedures, there are certain risks involved. These include:
Infection – Although the risk is low, there is a possibility that the patient may get a GI infection as a result of the endoscopy. If this happens, the patient will be treated with a course of antibiotics. To prevent infections from occurring in the first place, especially if the patient faces a heightened risk of becoming infected, some gastroenterologists give patients preventive antibiotics prior to the procedure.
Bleeding – There is also a risk of bleeding but only when the endoscopy is performed for biopsy purposes, in which a piece of tissue is taken from the GI tract for testing. In worst cases, the patient may require a blood transfusion as treatment for this complication.
Perforation of the GI tract – There is also a risk of tearing of the GI tract. Treatment of this condition typically requires surgery. The risk of tearing, however, is very small.
Over the years, the benefits of endoscopic procedures in the field of gastroenterology have increased significantly. Technologies used for the procedures have also improved in the same way, thereby reducing the risk of complications. As such, these complications are very rare and can easily be prevented or treated. In determining whether to use endoscopic procedures during a gastroenterology consultation, doctors typically weigh whether the potential benefits of the procedures outweigh their risks.
- American Gastroenterological Association
- American College of Gastroenterology