Is there a difference between a gastrologist and a gastroenterologist? What diseases do these doctors treat? This article details the difference between these two commonly misunderstood specializations in the medical field. It also describes the specific things a doctor of this specialization performs including the procedures and the specific organs of the body that this type of medical doctor looks into.Finally, the article also provides information on how these doctors are being trained.
While a “gastrologist” and a “gastroenterologist” may sound to be similar types of medical doctor, they differ basically in the scope of diagnosis and treatment of diseases. These are both subspecialties of internal medicine.
Medical doctors who specialize on the digestive system are well known as gastroenterologists rather than gastrologists. Most of the description herein features gastroenterologist information as information concerning gastrologists per se are limited.
What is the difference between a gastrologist and a gastroenterologist?
A gastrologist is a medical doctor who specializes in the study of the stomach, its structure, functions and diseases. Gastro is derived from the Greek term "gaster" which refers to the stomach or belly.
A gastroenterologist, on the other hand, specializes on the disorders affecting the digestive system including the mouth esophagus, stomach, intestines and associated organs like the pancreas, liver, gall bladder and bile ducts. A gastroenterologist, therefore, covers a greater portion of the digestive system while the gastrologist is focused on the stomach.
What does a gastrologist or gastroenterologist do to diagnose and treat patients?
The gastrologist, or the gastroenterologist, does the diagnostic part of healing problems related to the stomach. After a short review of the case, the patient upon the supervision of the gastrologist, may be subjected to all possible tests to set the right diagnosis. This includes tests like blood test, colonoscopy, rectoscopy, gastroscopy, among others which are done in the hospital or a well-equipped clinic.
A colonoscopy is a medical procedure performed to patients where a fiber optic tube with a camera on the end is inserted into the large intestine. The colonoscopy will aid doctors in identifying polyps or lesions that could become cancerous. Rectoscopy or proctoscopy is medical procedure wherein a thin tube with a camera and a light is inserted into the rectum, the final part of the digestive system before waste is stored before elimination. This allows the gastroenterologist to visually inspect the rectum for problems. Gastroscopy, performed both by the gastrologist and the gastroenterologist, is a procedure that allows the doctor to look inside the oesophagus (the pipe that goes from the mouth to the stomach), stomach and the first part of the duodenum (small intestine). A flexible, telescopic camera called a gastroscope is swallowed by the patient and passed down through the oesophagus into the stomach.
Aside from these common procedures, the following is a list of gastrointestinal procedures employed by gastroenterologists or gastroenterologist:
- EsophagoGastroDuodenoscopy (EGD or Upper Endoscopy)
- Esophageal dilation (stretching)
- Esophageal stent placement
- Banding or sclerosis of esophageal varicose veins
- Evaluation and control of Gastrointestinal Bleeding
- Cauterization of bleeding Lesions
- Esophageal manometry for swallowing disorders
- Esophageal pH monitoring
- Small bowel enteroscopy (visualization of the small intestine)
- Endoscopic retrograde CholangioPancreatography (ERCP)
- Bile duct dilation
- Bile duct stent placement
- Removal of bile duct stones
- Video capsule endoscopy
- Colon polyp removal
- Banding of hemorrhoids
- Colonic stent placement
If it is determined that medications therapy is not possible for a patient’s condition, the gastrologist or gastroenterologist may recommend surgical procedure which is done by a surgeon.
What medical problems are treated by gastrologists or gastroenterologists?
There is a long list of medical problems that a gastrologist or a gastroenterologists is able to address depending on location of the condition:
Diseases of the Esophagus:
- difficulty swallowing
- heartburn (a painful burning sensation in the chest caused by backflow from the stomach irritating the esophagus. Heartburn is a symptom of ulcer, hernia, or other disorders of the digestive system)
- Barrett's Esophagus (change in cell type of the lower esophagus due to acid reflux)
- esophageal cancer
- esophageal bleeding
- esophageal varices (stretched veins in the esophagus that occur due to a malfunctioning liver. If these veins burst, bleeding can cause death)
- Zenker's Diverticulum (pouches that develop in the esophagus due to increased pressure in and around the esophagus. It can cause difficulty in swallowing, choking, and aspiration)
Diseases of the Stomach:
- vomiting of blood
- stomach cancer
- gastroparesis or delayed stomach emptying
- hiatal hernia
- Helicobacter pylori (bacteria that can survive in highly acidic secretions of the stomach. These are believed to be a major cause of most stomach ulcers and also cancer)
- peptic ulcers
Diseases of the Liver, Gall Bladder, Pancreas and Ducts:
- hepatitis (inflammation of the liver caused by a virus or a toxin)
- cirrhosis (a chronic disease interfering with the normal functioning of the liver because of scarring usually caused by chronic alcoholism)
- gall bladder infection
- pancreatic cancer
- blockages in the biliary and pancreatic Ducts
- Sphincter of Oddi disorders (Sphincter of Oddi is a muscular valve that controls the flow of digestive juices, such as the bile and the pancreatic juice)
Diseases of the Intestines:
- abdominal Pain
- anal fistulas (a fistula is an abnormal passage, opening, or connection between two internal organs or from an internal organ to the surface of the body)
- celiac disease
- Crohn's Disease (a chronic, inflammatory bowel disease)
- colitis (inflammation of the colon)
- colon polyps
- diverticulitis (Diverticulitis is a common digestive disease particularly found in the large intestine)
- proctitis (inflammation of the anus and the lining of the rectum)
- rectal bleeding
- bowel obstruction
Other Diseases of the Digestive System:
- foodborne illnesses
- anal itching
- anal fissure
- weight loss
- parasite Infections
- change in bowel habits
- narrow stools
- diverticulosis (a risk factor for cancer due to growth of small sacs in the stomach or colon)
- black stools
- irritable bowel syndrome
- bowel obstruction
How are gastrologists or gastroenterologists trained?
Gastrologists or gastroenterologists need to train extensively for a minimum of 13 years. Students interested in gastroenterology should take undergraduate courses in biology, chemistry, and mathematics. After finishing an undergraduate or postgraduate degree, students attend a 4-year medical school then a three-year training program in internal medicine which includes a residency. Once through with this, the internist may specialize in gastroenterology by entering a gastroenterology fellowship which is, again, an intensive training in diseases and conditions of the digestive tract.
The next step in becoming a gastroenterologist is a 3-year program of special study and training called a general internal medicine residency. Following completion of this residency, the physician (internist) may continue on to specialize in gastroenterology by entering a gastroenterology fellowship.
Dr. Sovi Joseph
©Patrick A. Regoniel 5 January 2010 What is the difference between a gastrologist and a gastroenterologist?