Do I Need to See a Colorectal Surgeon or Gastroenterologist?

When it comes to gastrointestinal health, it’s not uncommon to find yourself in a situation where you need to consult a medical specialist. For example, who do you need to see if you need a colonoscopy in Melbourne? Or if you have pelvic floor problems? Two common specialists in this field are colorectal surgeons and gastroenterologists. While their areas of expertise overlap to some extent, there are distinct differences between the two specialties that can significantly impact your healthcare journey. Here, we’ll explore these differences, what each specialty treats, and how to determine which specialist is right for you.

What do colorectal surgeons do?

Colorectal surgeons are medical doctors who specialise in the surgical treatment of conditions affecting the colon, rectum, and anus. They receive extensive training in both general surgery and colorectal surgery, making them experts in diagnosing and treating various colorectal disorders. Here are some of the key areas where colorectal surgeons play a crucial role:

  1. Colorectal cancer

One of the primary responsibilities of colorectal surgeons is the diagnosis and treatment of colorectal cancer. They perform colonoscopies to screen for cancer, so they’re the right specialist to go to when you need a colonoscopy in Melbourne. They will recommend surgical interventions such as colectomies (removal of a portion of the colon) if cancer is detected. They also work closely with oncologists and other healthcare professionals to develop comprehensive treatment plans for colorectal cancer patients.

  1. Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

Colorectal surgeons are skilled in managing conditions like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, which fall under the umbrella term inflammatory bowel disease. When medications and lifestyle changes are not effective, they may perform surgery to remove damaged portions of the intestines or create temporary or permanent ostomies (surgically created openings for waste elimination).

  1. Diverticulitis

Diverticulitis is a condition characterised by inflammation or infection in small pouches that can develop in the walls of the colon. Colorectal surgeons can treat severe cases of diverticulitis with surgery, often involving the removal of the affected segment of the colon.

  1. Haemorrhoids and anal disorders

Colorectal surgeons also handle non-malignant conditions such as haemorrhoids, anal fissures, and anal abscesses. Surgical procedures may be required to address these issues when conservative treatments prove ineffective.

  1. Pelvic floor problems

They are experts in managing pelvic floor problems like urinary incontinence, faecal incontinence and rectal prolapse. Surgery may be recommended to correct these conditions when necessary.

What do gastroenterologists do?

Gastroenterologists, on the other hand, are medical doctors who specialise in the diagnosis and non-surgical treatment of gastrointestinal (GI) conditions. They have expertise in managing a wide range of GI disorders, including but not limited to:

  1. Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

GERD is a chronic condition where stomach acid flows back into the oesophagus, causing symptoms like heartburn and regurgitation. Gastroenterologists can recommend medications, lifestyle modifications, and dietary changes to manage GERD effectively.

  1. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Patients with IBS experience a variety of gastrointestinal symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, and changes in bowel habits. Gastroenterologists play a key role in diagnosing IBS and providing guidance on symptom management.

  1. Hepatitis and Liver Disease

Gastroenterologists are experts in the diagnosis and management of liver diseases, including hepatitis, cirrhosis, and fatty liver disease. They can assess liver function, perform biopsies, and recommend appropriate treatments.

  1. Peptic ulcers

These specialists are skilled in diagnosing and treating peptic ulcers, which are sores that develop on the inner lining of the stomach or the upper part of the small intestine. Medications, lifestyle changes, and sometimes endoscopic procedures are used to manage these ulcers.

When to see a colorectal surgeon vs. gastroenterologist

Now that we’ve established the areas of expertise for both colorectal surgeons and gastroenterologists, let’s discuss when it’s appropriate to see each specialist:

When to see a colorectal surgeon

  • You need a colonoscopy: From the age of 45 (or earlier if you have a family history of colorectal cancer), everyone should go for a colonoscopy. This procedure allows them to detect and diagnose various conditions, including colorectal cancer and polyps.
  • You’ve been diagnosed with colorectal cancer: If you receive a diagnosis of colorectal cancer, your primary care physician or gastroenterologist may refer you to a colorectal surgeon for surgical treatment.
  • You have severe diverticulitis: When conservative treatments fail to manage severe diverticulitis, a colorectal surgeon may recommend surgical intervention.
  • You’re dealing with complex anal disorders: Conditions like haemorrhoids, anal fissures, and anal abscesses that require surgical treatment should be evaluated by a colorectal surgeon.
  • Pelvic floor problems: If you experience faecal incontinence or rectal prolapse that requires surgical correction, a colorectal surgeon is the specialist to consult.

When to see a gastroenterologist

  • You have digestive symptoms: If you have gastrointestinal symptoms such as chronic abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, or unexplained weight loss, start by seeing a gastroenterologist for evaluation and diagnosis. However, if you have a family history of colon cancer, rather see a colorectal surgeon in Melbourne.
  • Reflux or heartburn: Gastroenterologists are experts in managing GERD and related conditions. If you experience frequent heartburn or acid reflux, they can help you find relief.
  • Suspected liver or pancreas issues: For concerns related to liver or pancreas health, such as jaundice, unexplained abdominal pain, or abnormal liver function tests, consult a gastroenterologist.
  • IBS or other functional GI disorders: If you suspect you have IBS or any functional GI disorder, a gastroenterologist can provide a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

Navigating the world of gastrointestinal health can be complex, but understanding the roles of colorectal surgeons and gastroenterologists can help you make informed decisions about your healthcare. If you’re experiencing digestive symptoms, start by consulting a gastroenterologist, as they can provide non-surgical solutions for a wide range of GI conditions. However, if you need a colonoscopy in Melbourne, have pelvic floor problems, if surgery is necessary or you have a specific colorectal condition, colorectal surgeons are the specialists to turn to. Remember that these specialists often work together to provide the best possible care for patients, emphasising the importance of timely and accurate diagnosis and treatment in the field of gastroenterology.