Pediatric Gastroenterologist
Home Health & Fitness When Should I See a Pediatric Gastroenterologist?

When Should I See a Pediatric Gastroenterologist?

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From birth parents care for their children, for the mother, even before birth. They watch them grow and develop, they nurture and nurse them. Sadly, there are times when a parent’s love and care is not enough, times when specialist knowledge and care is required. Caring parents then turn to professionals with the medical knowledge and skills to supplement their own parental care. 

An area of concern is gastrointestinal disease, or GI. Medical instances of GI conditions are on the increase amongst children. For example, celiac disease now affects 21.3 per children 100,000. This condition is increasing at an astonishing average of 7.5% per year according the research by the Celiac Disease Foundation. So, it cannot be over stressed how mindful parents should be of their children’s GI health.

Gastroenterology is by no means a modern area of medical science. Translated hieroglyphics from ancient Egypt’s tenth dynasty, circa 2125 B.C, show that, during the court of Pharaoh Meryhathor, court physician Irynakhty was known to be specializing in gastroenterology.

The term “Gastroenterology” is taken from the ancient Greek language. Gastro literally means ‘belly’, entero meaning ‘intestine’ and the suffix logos, meaning knowledge or the study of. The Today, the term Gastroenterology refers to a broad area of medicine that covers the entire gastrointestinal tract, from the mouth to the anus. This includes the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, colon and pancreas, gallbladder, bile ducts, liver and rectum.

Physicians practicing within this field, gastroenterologists, would usually have completed eight years of pre-medical and medical training, and internship, three years of internal residency and a further three years on a gastroenterology fellowship. Some gastroenterologists will complete a further year in transplant hepatology, advanced interventional endoscopy, inflammatory bowel disease, motility and other associated topics.

The medical skills of gastroenterologists are many and varied. They undertake various diagnostic and therapeutic procedures, which will include esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD), colonoscopy, endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP), endoscopic ultrasound (EUS), and liver biopsies. 

Interventional gastroenterologists will undertake an additional year of intensely specialist training which focuses on advanced endoscopic techniques. This advanced training will allow them to undertake interventional procedures, such as advanced resection techniques which will include endoscopic mucosal resection and endoscopic submucosal dissection, endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography and endoscopic ultrasound-guided diagnostics. Gastroenterologists with advanced training may additionally perform endoscopic bariatric procedures.

Common Gastrointestinal Issues

Gastrointestinal area of medicine is generally referred to as GI, and there is a multitude of GI health issues that can affect anyone, of any age. Although, statistically, women have a greater level of sufferance. It is not entirely known whether this is due to differing genetic make up of the genders, or whether it is due to the fact that men are more likely to suffer in silence, whereas, women are more likely to seek professional advice. 

Whichever is the case, the majority of GI health issues in teens and adults stem from early childhood or through birth defects. Be they genetic or inherent, through conscientious parenting and the intervention of skilled medical professionals, Gi health issues are usually diagnosed early in a person’s life.

Some conditions can be corrected when the sufferer is a child and with no long term affects. Other conditions can be treated and learnt to be managed through a person’s life. Others may be more serious and require intensive, multi-faceted therapy over a long period of time. 

Common GI conditions include: gastroesophageal reflux disease, inflammatory and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease, eosinophilic esophagitis, Barrett’s esophagus, gall stones, hemorrhoids, colitis, ulcers, colon polyps and cancer. The range GI conditions is immense and can vary from being nothing more than an occasional annoyance to being a life-threatening condition requiring intensive therapy.

Not so Common GI Conditions

Achalasia is a serious GI condition that affects the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). In sufferers of achalasia the ring of muscle between the esophagus and the stomach fails to open when swallowing which causes food to back in the esophagus. 

Hirschsprung disease is characterized by the absence of particular nerve cells (ganglions) in a segment of the bowel in an infant from birth. The absence of ganglion cells causes peristalsis which is the inability to move stools through the intestine. 

Mostly affecting children and teens, another rare affliction is rumination disorder. Sufferers of this disorder have an involuntary reflexive muscle action which causes undigested food to be brought back up through the esophagus. Many children will rechew the food and swallow it again or they will simply spit the food out. The symptoms of rumination disorder are often mistaken for other more common eating disorders, such as bulimia, but it is in fact an entirely involuntary affliction.

Cyclic vomiting syndrome (CVS) is a disorder, predominantly affecting children, which causes sudden, repeated attacks of severe nausea and vomiting. Episodes of CVS can last for several days and are interspersed by longer periods without attacks. Medically speaking, little is known about CVS and its causes, but it is another GI health issue in young people that seems to be on the increase.

When to Seek Professional Advice

The vast majority of parents are acutely aware of their children’s health, arguably, they are instinctively aware. Any abnormal, or changes in, behavior, mood and reactions are noticed and advice is then likely to be sought. Children should be encouraged to communicate and parents encouraged to listen. As with any infantile or childhood health issue, early professional intervention vastly increases the chances of an accurate diagnosis, and subsequent successful treatment.

There are many symptoms that parents should be aware of and pay attention to, none of which should be ignored. In the very young, a reluctance to feed and prolonged periods of distress must be treated seriously and professional diagnosis sought. Other early signs and common symptoms in the very young and teens patients may include acid reflux or heartburn. This is common in people with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Difficulties in swallowing and stomach pains are also common indicators, as is nausea and vomiting and are not to be ignored. Constipation, diarrhea and incontinence, bloating and bleeding are all signals that should prompt the sufferer to seek professional advice. Unexplainable weight gain or weight loss should also be looked upon with concern and should be assessed by a professional.

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