What Is a Proctologist?

Medically Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on February 20, 2024
3 min read

Proctologists are doctors who specialize in colon and rectal issues. They focus on conditions that affect the lower digestive tract. They’re often called colorectal surgeons.

The term “colorectal” is a combination of the words “colon” and “rectal,” so it refers to your lower digestive tract. It also includes your pelvic floor and anus.

Doctors specializing in this field must meet specific qualifications including:

  • A degree from an accredited medical school
  • Graduate-level general surgical training through an accredited residency program
  • A range of experience across all stages of colorectal diseases, including diagnosis, treatment, and surgery
  • Colorectal operation experience formally documented in detail‌
  • Sharing recommendations from the training program directors at your residency for review by the board

With board approval, candidates may sit for examinations, including:

  • An exam for general surgery
  • A written and oral exam presented to the American Board of Surgery
  • An exam for colon and rectal surgery
  • A written exam that includes colorectal care, including diagnosis, treatment, and surgery. It may also include radiology and pathology.
  • An oral exam that includes an interview by three colorectal surgery teams. Experienced doctors assess your ability to diagnose and treat health conditions and diseases.

A proctologist’s education doesn’t end with board approval. They have to have ongoing education to stay up-to-date on the latest techniques. Proctologists must apply for recertification every 10 years.

If you have a condition that affects your lower digestive tract, your primary care doctor may give you a referral to a proctologist. 

Common conditions treated by a proctologist include:

  • Cancer. A growth of abnormal cells may affect the health of your colon, rectum, or anus. Damage leads to trouble digesting food and having a bowel movement. Without treatment, cancer in your lower digestive tract may spread to other areas of your body.
  • Constipation. You may have constipation every so often, but persistent constipation may point to a medical problem. Your proctologist can help ease the symptoms. You may need tests to look for underlying causes.
  • Crohn’s disease. An inflammatory disorder, Crohn’s disease leads to swelling and irritation in your bowels that affect your body’s ability to digest food, absorb nutrients, and remove waste.
  • Hemorrhoids. When blood vessels in your anus swell, they may block the opening that allows passage of bowel movements. This can cause pain and lead to other conditions like constipation or infection.
  • Incontinence. If you can’t control gas or bowel movements, your proctologist may diagnose incontinence. This can also be a symptom of a serious health condition.‌

Your proctologist will ask about your symptoms and give you a physical exam. After narrowing down potential health conditions, they may:

  • Order lab work
  • Suggest diet changes that can improve your symptoms in the short term
  • Suggest over-the-counter or prescription medication
  • Do surgery to repair damage

Proctologists usually suggest less-invasive treatment first. You may need to avoid certain foods or make lifestyle changes to improve your symptoms. If this works, you might not need medication or surgery.

If your condition gets worse, your proctologist may try a procedure to learn more about your condition and repair damage. Common colorectal procedures include:

  • Colonoscopy. Your doctor uses a small light and camera to inspect your lower digestive tract. They look for damage and signs that your bodily functions are affected by your health condition.
  • Bowel obstruction repair. If you have a blockage that doesn’t resolve on its own, you may need surgery. In some cases, a blockage causes damage to your intestines that needs repairs during the removal. ‌
  • Hemorrhoid removal. Some hemorrhoids go away with time, but others stick around and affect your quality of life. Large, painful hemorrhoids are easy to remove to prevent further damage.