Pediatric Gastroenterology

Can a Pediatrician Treat Gastro Diseases?

A pediatrician who specializes in gastroenterology, or the study, diagnosis and treatment of diseases relating to the human digestive system—is called a pediatric gastroenterologist. While young patients complaining of symptoms commonly treated by a GI doctor such as abdominal pain, difficulty swallowing, diarrhea or constipation are usually taken to see their family doctors first, a pediatric gastroenterologist has inevitably more experience with children who may be affected by gastroenterology conditions often found in children and may be better suited to treat your child.

Pediatricians of this nature have studied the field pediatric gastroenterology extensively. Within the US, most have acquired certification by the American Board of Pediatrics that recognizes their sub-specialty in Pediatric Gastroenterology. If your family doctor cannot explain a young patient’s abdominal pain or if he or she suspects colorectal inflammation in your child during a check-up appointment or when the child complains of symptoms, the patient might be referred to a pediatric gastroenterologist for medicinal, nutritional or surgical treatment. Endoscopy may also be necessary to diagnose gastro disease in some child or teenager patients.

What Are Digestive Diseases Commonly Treated by a Pediatric Gastroenterologist?

Gastroenterological conditions that commonly affect patients between the ages of 0 and 18 can roughly be categorized into two sub-sections: functional disorders and motility disorders. The former category deals with conditions marked by physiological dysfunction in the body (i.e. feces passing through the colon is too watery, resulting in diarrhea), while the latter category deals with conditions marked by weakened nerves or muscles that are causing problems with digestion as food moves through the gastrointestinal tract (GI tract). Motility, or movement, of food through a child’s digestive system may be affected by such conditions as indigestion (dyspepsia), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), lactose intolerance and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)—all of which are very commonly diagnosed among young patients.

Medical students studying pediatric gastroenterology have conducted extensive research regarding diseases in pediatrics. Their work has led to standardized vaccination procedures—such as that designed to prevent hepatitis (inflammation of the liver)—in many public school systems across the US in years past. Many of the medical conditions treated by pediatricians specializing in gastroenterology also coincide with hepatology, the study of gallbladder, biliary, pancreatic and liver disease. Research into such gastro conditions can help doctors treat patients in need of liver transplants and other children who have experienced failure of gastrointestinal organs.

How is Endoscopy for Children Performed?

Endoscopy is sometimes needed to treat children with digestive diseases. Although occurrences are rare, minimally-invasive procedures are necessary if a doctor needs a tissue sample with biopsy or if the young patient requires some type of endoscopic surgery as a form of treatment. Colonoscopies or other endoscopy procedures practiced in children are usually performed at a children hospital or an ambulatory surgery center. Some private practitioners who have training in pediatric gastroenterology may also perform endoscopy in their own clinics or offices. Typically, the methods of bowel prep before a colonoscopy procedure for children is the same as that for older patients. The laxative solutions administered to younger patients are different, depending on which brand your doctor chooses, but preparatory enemas and sedation medications are largely the same. If you have any questions about how to help a child in need of treatment for gastrointestinal disease, please contact a pediatric gastroenterologist listed in our medical directory for advice.