Most everyone has heard about a friend, family member or coworker visiting the gastroenterologist at some point in time.

But what does what exactly is a gastroenterologist? A gastroenterologist is a physician who specializes in digestive healthcare.

Gastroenterology is an area of medicine that primarily focuses on the health and maintenance of the digestive system, which is also known as the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Your GI system is responsible for digesting and moving food, absorbing nutrients and removing waste from your body.

Responsible for treating any part of this system, gastroenterologists can perform endoscopic procedures, which are specialized tools that view the GI tract and help ensure a proper diagnosis. Gastroenterologists don’t always perform surgery but may work in close collaboration with GI surgeons on occasion.

They treat conditions such as acid reflux, hemorrhoids, hepatitis C and IBS. For a longer list, view some of the most common GI conditions.

Sometimes deciphering what type of specialized doctor you should see can be quite daunting. However, if you are experiencing a bloody stool for no reason, have difficulty swallowing or are experiencing persistent abdominal pain, you may want to go with your gut and see a gastroenterologist. If you’re over the age of 50, you should meet with a gastroenterologist to get screened for colon cancer and other potential conditions.

If you think a visit to the gastroenterologist might be necessary, schedule an appointment with a GI doctor.