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What Is a Colorectal Surgeon?

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on June 29, 2021

Colorectal surgeons are specialists in their field, focusing on the physiology of the lower digestive tract. The term “colorectal” is a combination of the words colon and rectal. This area of the body includes the colon, rectum, pelvic floor, and anus, often referred to as the small intestine.

What Does a Colorectal Surgeon Do?

These specialists are unique because they have certification to diagnose and treat all conditions that impact the lower digestive tract up to and including surgery. Since intestinal issues can also impact other areas of the body, colorectal surgeons may also treat the liver, urinary tract, and female reproductive system.

Education and Training

As specialists in their field, colorectal surgeons commit to a rigorous education. This includes:

  • Completing 5 years of education in general surgery
  • Passing a written examination that qualifies them as specialists
  • Passing an oral examination that certifies them as a surgeon
  • Attending a 1-year residency with an emphasis on colon and rectal surgery

Upon passing their examinations with the American Board of Surgery, they can then complete their certification exams with the American Board of Colon and Rectal Surgery.

Reasons To See a Colorectal Surgeon

There are hundreds of conditions that can impact your lower digestive tract. After you share your concerns with your primary care physician, they may refer you to a colorectal surgeon for an official diagnosis. From there, you’ll be able to assess your treatment options. 

The most common reasons to seek the care of a colorectal surgeon include:

Cancer

This is the growth of abnormal cells in the colon, rectum, or anus, which may negatively impact your ability to digest food or produce a bowel movement. When left untreated, cancer can spread to other areas of the body.

Diverticulitis

This inflammatory condition, which affects the colon, is a type of diverticular disease — a common condition in which small sacs or bulges called “diverticula” form within the large intestine, on its walls. Diverticulitis is when one of these sacs or bulges is perforated, or torn. Complications from a diverticulitis attack can be serious, including bleeding and infection. Sometimes, you’ll only need medicine to recover, but some cases may require surgery.

Ulcerative Colitis

An inflammatory disease that affects the rectum and colon, ulcerative colitis is usually treated medically. This condition can come and go, but if medical management isn’t sufficient, you may need surgery.

Crohn’s Disease

Primarily described as an inflammatory disorder, Crohn’s disease can decrease your body’s ability to digest food, absorb nutrients, and remove waste.

Hemorrhoids

This condition is very common following strenuous activity or pregnancy and birth. Blood vessels may swell and protrude through sensitive skin, appearing as a blood clot either inside or outside the anus.

Fecal Incontinence

This condition may have any number of contributing factors, all of which lead to an inability to control the passing of gas or bowel movements. Similar to constipation, it can be a sign of a more serious condition.

What To Expect at the Colorectal Surgeon

Even though colorectal conditions can seem mysterious, the treatment options are easy to understand. A colorectal surgeon can help by:

  • Conducting tests to learn more about your condition(s)
  • Advising you on diet changes that may have a positive impact on your symptoms
  • Prescribing medication or treatment to alleviate your symptoms
  • Performing surgery to repair damage to your lower digestive tract 

If your symptoms are mild, a colorectal surgeon may first suggest that you make changes to your diet. This can include vitamins and supplements to improve your digestion. In more severe cases, you may require medication to help manage your symptoms.

If neither of these solutions works, the doctor may perform surgery to remove or repair troubled areas. Common colorectal procedures include:

Colonoscopy

This procedure is most often performed as a way for the surgeon to investigate the physical function of your small intestine for diagnosis and treatment.

Bowel Obstruction Repair

In some cases, an obstruction in the bowels can cause symptoms, requiring surgery for removal. If a blockage has caused any damage, it would be repaired during the surgery. 

Hemorrhoid Removal

While some hemorrhoids will disappear over time on their own, some do need surgical removal. This can take care of hemorrhoids that are too large or painful so they won’t cause further damage.

It is important to keep in mind that many medical professionals may treat and diagnose conditions affecting your lower digestive tract. However, colorectal surgeons have chosen this specialty and have a more in-depth knowledge of how to diagnose and treat your conditions.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

American Medical Association: “Colon and Rectal Surgery Specialty Description.”

American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons: "Basic Facts About Colorectal Cancer."

American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons: "Basic Facts About Crohn’s Disease."

American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons: "Basic Facts About Hemorrhoids."

American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons: "Basic Facts About Fecal Incontinence."

American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons: “Diseases and Conditions.” 

American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons: “Diverticular Disease.”

American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons: “Ulcerative Colitis.”

Harvard Health: “Hemorrhoids and what to do about them.”

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Digestive Diagnostic Procedures.”

Mayo Clinic: “Colon and Rectal Surgery.”

University of California San Francisco: “Bowel Obstruction.”

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