Gastroenterology is the medical study of the digestive system and related disorders. Problems with the stomach, intestines, esophagus, colon, and bowels are all part of the study of gastroenterology. A gastroenterological specialist has typically spent several years studying internal and digestive medicine in addition to regular medical training. The study of digestive ailments has grown immensely with the development of modern medical technology, allowing specialists in this field a multitude of diagnostic and treatment options that were completely unavailable before the 20th century.
The health of the digestive system is crucial to whole body wellness. An improperly functioning digestive system can inhibit proper nutrition, slow down food processing, and lead to system toxicity due to the improper management of bodily waste. Gastroenterology is concerned with the diagnosis and treatment of almost all digestive issues, including various forms of cancer, organ damage, ulcers, and abnormally operating digestive and waste systems.
Though gastroenterology has advanced incredibly since the turn of the 20th century, the study and practice of this type of medicine has ancient roots. Before the development of internal scans and modern drug therapy, doctors treating digestive disorders used herbal compounds, dietary regimens, and other ancient remedies meant to improve health. Studies were done by performing autopsies on animals and people to determine how organs functioned and what led to illnesses. Not until the 18th and 19th centuries, however, was technology sufficiently advanced to allow the study of living humans, thus allowing major insights into the field of gastroenterology. With the 19th century development of gastroscopes, tools that allow the visualization of the upper digestive tract, the diagnosis and treatment of digestive ailments began to develop by leaps and bounds.
People who have persistent stomach problems, such as chronic constipation or diarrhea, unexplained cramping, or swelling of the abdomen, may be sent to a gastroenterologist for examination. Esophageal problems, such as difficulty swallowing or persistent acid reflux, may be under the auspices of this type of specialist as well. These doctors have gone beyond basic medical treatment to spend several years specializing, first in general internal medicine, then in the sub-specialty of digestive issues. Though most cannot perform surgery, many are licensed to do minor exploratory procedures.
There are additional specialties that fall under the general heading of gastroenterology, including radiology and oncology. These sub-specialties deal mainly with the diagnosis and treatment of cancer in the digestive tract, including stomach, prostate, and intestinal forms of the disease. Hepatology, which is a related but separate discipline, involves the study of digestion-related organs such as the liver and gallbladder.