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Seeing Your Doctor About Gastrointestinal Problems

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on October 14, 2020

If you’re scheduled to see your doctor for unexplained gastrointestinal problems, you can take steps to get the most out of your appointment. Here’s what you can expect during and after your first visit.

How to Prepare for Your Visit

If you haven’t already, start jotting down your issues, gastrointestinal or not. You can use online symptom trackers and bring a printed copy to your appointment. Be ready to answer your doctor’s questions about your symptoms, including:

  • When they started
  • How often you have them
  • When they happen
  • How long the symptoms last
  • How intense they are
  • If they’re changing in any way
  • If and how the symptoms affect your life or work
  • If anything improves or worsens them

Your doctor may also want to know about any prescription and over-the-counter medicines, supplements, vitamins, or herbal remedies you take. If you want, ask someone to go the the appointment with you to be an extra pair of ears to help you remember what the doctor says.

You may not have time to ask all your questions. Start with your top priority ones first. Write down any new ones that pop into your mind during the appointment. You can use these as a starting point for your list:

  • Why might I have these symptoms?
  • Is there anything else that could cause them?
  • What tests should I get?
  • How likely is it that my children will have Crohn’s disease, if I have it?

What to Expect at the Appointment

Your doctor will ask about your health and examine you. They may see if your belly is bloated and use a stethoscope to hear inside. They also might touch your abdomen as well to feel your spleen or liver. They’ll want to know if any areas are tender or painful.

Your doctor may ask for blood and stool samples. Many conditions can cause gastrointestinal issues. Lab tests can help your doctor narrow in on possible problems and also show if you have signs of anemia, infection, or inflammation.

You will get instructions on how and when to give each sample. Before you do, ask your doctor:

  • When the results will be in
  • How you will get the results and if you can have a written copy
  • If the tests can provide any other information

What Happens After Your Doctor Visit

If your primary care doctor doesn’t have a diagnosis for your symptoms, they may refer you to a gastroenterologist for more tests. This is a doctor who specializes in conditions that affect the gastrointestinal tract and liver. Tests that your gastroenterologist may recommend include:

Endoscopy. This diagnostic procedure uses a tube with a camera that goes inside your body. That gives your doctor an up-close view of parts of your gastrointestinal tract. A colonoscopy and an upper endoscopy are two types of endoscopies.

Biopsy. A doctor called a pathologist uses a microscope to examine a small tissue sample collected during an endoscopy.

MRI or CT scan. These are imaging tests that use machines to take photos of your inner body.

Regardless of the test, ask your doctor what they’re like, why you need them, how you should get ready, and what the risks are. If you are nervous or worried about your comfort, tell your doctor so they may suggest ways to make it more pleasant. It may help to have a loved one go to your appointments with you.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

National Health Service (U.K.): “MRI Scan,” “Diagnosis -- Crohn's disease.”

Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation: “Crohn’s Disease Diagnosis and Testing.”

Mayo Clinic: “Crohn's disease.”

American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy: “Endoscopic Procedures.”

American College of Gastroenterology: “What is a gastroenterologist?”

Family Practice Management: “The Use of Symptom Diaries in Outpatient Care.”

National Institute on Aging: “What Should I Ask My Doctor During a Checkup?” “How to Prepare for a Doctor's Appointment,” “5 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Doctor's Visit,” “What Do I Need to Tell the Doctor?”

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: “Diagnosis of Diverticular Disease,” “Diagnosis of Celiac Disease,” “Ulcerative Colitis,” “Diagnosis of Irritable Bowel Syndrome,” “Diagnosis of Crohn’s Disease.”

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