What is Gastroenterology?

Gastroenterology is a branch of internal medicine focused on disorders and diseases of the human digestive system, mostly involving the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Doctors who specialise in this field are called ‘gastroenterologists’. They diagnose and treat patients with digestive conditions and diseases.

In adult males, the GI tract is 5 metres long and includes the oesophagus, stomach, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, small intestine and large intestine (colon).

Common conditions that gastroenterologists treat include bowel cancer, malabsorption diseases, constipation, diarrhoea, irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, ulcers, liver disease, hepatitis, gastritis, diverticulosis and gastroenteritis.

Gastroenterologists perform specialised diagnostic and therapeutic procedures such as liver biopsies and endoscopic examinations of the oesophagus, stomach, small and large bowel, such as gastroscopies and colonoscopies. Gastroenterologists do not perform abdominal surgery, however they work closely with surgeons to determine the best surgical operation for a patient. Gastroenterologists provide post-surgery care to help their patients recover from or cope with their digestive disorder.


What is a gastroscopy?

A specialist doctor performs a gastroscopy (upper endoscopy), using a thin flexible tube-like instrument with a camera and light on the end (a gastroscope) to carefully examine the lining of your oesophagus, stomach and small bowel. The camera collects images that are viewed by your specialist on a screen monitor during the procedure.

Diagnostic gastroscopy is a very safe and routine procedure. Under sedation, the gastroscope is gently passed through your mouth, down your throat and into your stomach. Because you’re sedated and not fully anaesthetised, a gastroscopy is a day procedure and has a quick recovery period.


Why do I need a gastroscopy?

A gastroscopy will help your doctor diagnose the cause of your abdominal pain, vomiting or any bleeding from your digestive tract. A gastroscopy can detect ulcers, small lesions, reflux and infections caused by bacteria and parasites. It also screens for stomach cancer.

This procedure allows the doctor to take tissue samples for pathology testing, and remove benign polyps that may be found during the gastroscopy, in most cases. Although stomach polyps are rarely pre-cancerous, they can lead to other digestive problems and are, therefore, removed for that reason.

Preparing for a Gastroscopy requires fasting only.

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What is a Colonoscopy?

A specialist doctor performs a colonoscopy using a thin flexible tube with a camera and light on the end, called a colonoscope, to examine your entire large bowel (colon), including your large intestine and rectum. Under sedation, the colonoscope is passed through your back passage and gently moved around so that your doctor can see the full length of your large bowel.

There’s no pain or discomfort during or after a colonoscopy. And because you’re not fully anaesthetised, it’s a day procedure with a short recovery period.


Why do I need a colonoscopy?

A colonoscopy is a relatively low-risk procedure that helps doctors diagnose serious illnesses such as bowel cancer, as well as inflamed tissues and ulcers.

Almost all cases of colon cancer start with small growths called polyps on the lining of your colon. These start as benign (non-cancerous) growths, but if they are not removed, they can become cancerous. If a polyp is found during your colonoscopy it will be removed as a preventative measure, in most cases. Polyps take 10-15 years on average to develop into cancer, hence why a routine colonoscopy is recommended every 5-10 years for people at average risk of bowel cancer.

Bowel cancer occurs most commonly in people in their 30s and 40s or older. Sometimes it occurs in people in their 20s. It’s very rare in teenagers. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to tell who will develop bowel cancer, therefore people who have a strong family history of bowel cancer are recommended to have regular check-ups. Bowel cancer affects one person in 20 at some stage during their life.

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