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The study of gastroenterology and hepatology are often related to each other. This is because both branches of medicine generally focus on the organs of the digestive system. The organs of the digestive system are the mouth, stomach, intestines, esophagus, and anus. Also included are the pancreas, gallbladder, and the liver. Disorders and diseases that occur in these parts of the body are generally managed by doctors with specialties in gastroenterology and hepatology.
Clinical hepatology generally deals with the liver, its functions and its diseases. Clinical gastroenterology usually involves all the organs of digestion, including that of the liver. Doctors who specializes in gastroenterology and hepatology are called gastroenterologists. When treating their patients, these doctors usually take down a patient's symptoms as well as the diseases that occur in the family, do physical examinations, and request diagnostic tests. These may include blood tests, abdominal ultrasound, or computed tomography (CT) scan of the patient's abdomen.
Some of the common diseases encountered in gastroenterology are peptic ulcer disease (PUD), pancreatitis, gallstones, and appendicitis. PUD usually presents with sores in the stomach's lining, frequently leading to indigestion. Pancreatitis and appendicitis are inflammations that occur in the pancreas and appendix, respectively. Gallstones often develop when bile, the greenish-yellow substance secreted by the liver, crystallizes. Cancer may also grow in any part of the gastrointestinal tract, such as stomach, colon, and liver.
Most disorders of the liver are usually grouped together under hepatology. Examples of these diseases are liver cirrhosis, hemochromatosis, and hepatitis. Hepatitis is liver inflammation brought about by infection with several types of hepatitis virus, which include the hepatitis A virus and the hepatitis C virus, among many others.
Hemochromatosis occurs due to the body's inability to metabolize iron, leading to the accumulation of iron in the liver and other organs. Frequent damage to the liver can lead to its scarring and hardening. Such damage to the liver is usually brought about by exposure to infectious agents, harmful toxins, autoimmune disorders, and excessive alcohol use.
Aside from diagnosing and treating patients with gastrointestinal problems, gastroenterology and hepatology specialists also usually conduct research. Most of this research is directed at finding newer methods to detect gastrointestinal diseases and prevent their development. These doctors also search for new and better drugs to be used for the treatment of gastroenterology and hepatology patients.