Dr. Ashik Sainu K.M, Senior Consultant Gastroenterologist and Medical Director of Al Raffah Hospital, answers frequently asked questions on gastroenterology
Could you explain gastroenterology in layman terms?
Very simply put, the field of Gastroenterology deals with all the organs in the digestive system and its diseases. So we are talking about everything that is involved when you eat or drink anything. Starting from the oesophagus (or food pipe), to your stomach, small intestine, large intestine, colon and finally the rectum, we cover the whole digestive tract to start with. And let’s not forget some other critical organs as well, like the liver, biliary tract and the pancreas. So be it ‘too much’ food and drink, or ‘too little’, we have a variety of problems that come our way everyday.
When should a patient see a gastroenterologist?
Gastroenterology is a very vast field and since we cover so many organs and an important system in the body, we get a wide spectrum of cases as well. We get simple complaints like the common heartburn, food poisoning and diarrhoea, and complex ones like patients’ vomiting blood (hematemesis) or having blood in their stool. We often see cases of intestinal obstruction due to varying causes. We also get a lot of cases of patients with ulcers in their intestines that cause pain and other problems. Another common case is gall bladder stones; patients who have this problem need to get them removed. Then, of course, we see a host of diseases associated with the liver, like hepatitis, jaundice, cirrhosis etc. Also we diagnose and treat patients with infections and tumours of the liver and pancreas.
What are some of the common GI (gastrointestinal) problems?
When it comes to the most frequently seen cases, I must say it would be GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease), which is the ubiquitous ‘heartburn’ that a lot of people constantly complain about. We also get a lot of gallstones and patients with IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease) who have ulcers in their large intestine. Our Department also handles bleeders, where a patient is bleeding copiously from somewhere in the digestive tract.
What are the treatment options?
Treatment options vary with each diagnosis, of course. But to start with, we pay a lot of attention to the patient history. Then depending on the need, we may suggest imaging (CT, MRI, etc.), laboratory tests or different kinds of endoscopy, to arrive at a final diagnosis. An upper GI endoscopy is done if the patient is suffering from problems in the stomach and small intestine. A capsule endoscopy (where the patient swallows the capsule) is done when further imaging of the small intestine is needed. A colonoscopy is often recommended for issues in the large intestine. For complex cases involving the liver or pancreas, we usually resort to ERCP or EUS, which are highly complex procedures. If we feel the need to monitor the function of the GI system of a patient, we resort to Manometry and 24-hour PH-metry. We have a wide array of tools to choose from, in order to meet the needs of each individual patient.