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30 Secrets Gastroenterologists Will Never Tell You

Yes, they deal with people's poop on a daily basis and want to help you with diarrhea.

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Gastroenterologists are physicians dedicated to treating and managing diseases of the gastrointestinal tract (GI tract) and liver. Basically, they're who you go to when you're experiencing major stomach, bowel, or intestinal issues. BuzzFeed Health reached out to some gastroenterologists to tell us more about this huge and intriguing area of expertise. Special thanks to the gastroenterologists who provided intel and anecdotes for this post: Dr. Sahil Khanna, gastroenterologist with Mayo Clinic, and Dr. Rebekah Gross, gastroenterologist with NYU Langone.

1. Yes, we want to know EXACTLY what your poop looks like — and the more details the better.

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As gastroenterologists, we are interested in patients' bowel habits, what their stools look like (if there's blood in it, for example), if there's pain in their bellies or pain in their bowel movements, etc.

2. Your emotions can play a huge part in why your stomach and bathroom routine are all messed up.

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Stress, anxiety, and depression cause a lot of the symptoms patients come in to see us about. Sometimes your emotions lead you to eat differently, sometimes they mess with your sleeping schedule, and sometimes they create physiological changes in your body (higher blood pressure, for example) that can mess with your digestive system.

3. That's why GI and psychiatry overlap a lot, and most times we end up forming close, life-long relationships with our patients.

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Gastroenterologists have a real opportunity to make a relationship with the patient. Digestive issues can be a sensitive subject and sometimes you really have to get a patient to warm up to you and trust you before they'll tell you what's really going on.

5. We want you to know that getting bloated, gassy, and having diarrhea is going to happen sometimes and that's totally normal.

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Guys, it’s normal for your digestive system to make some noise. People come in to see us because they don't want to feel bloated, or fart, or have loose stools, but sometimes these things are just going to happen. People want a cure for everything, but there isn't always one.

It’s great that people are bringing it up and more comfortable talking about it. But sometimes you just have to deal with things like that. Although, we will say if you're experiencing new symptoms, or you're experiencing chronic symptoms over a long period of time you should come in and see us.

6. A regular workday for us usually includes vomit, constipation, bloody poop, bad breath, gas, and hemorrhoids. So there's really not much that phases us.

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In the clinic, we sometimes see 12 to14 patients a day. So trust us when we say we’re comfortable doing this and that you should never be embarrassed to tell us something — seeing poop and talking about diarrhea is just another day at work for us.

We're also patients. We get colonoscopies and take the same procedure prep as you, so we know what you're experiencing.

7. We might need to do a rectal exam during checkups, and that means putting our finger up your butt.

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The physical exams that we do are not painful, but they are slightly uncomfortable. We will sometimes use lubricant jelly to make it easier for patients. We do this day in and day out for patients, so please don't feel embarrassed or ever think that we're judging you.

8. And actually, this test is incredibly important because it can answer things that a CT scan cannot.

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Some patients with constipation can’t empty their bowels because of pelvic floor dysfunctions, which means their muscles aren’t relaxing and allowing them to poop. So we'll have to put our finger up their rectums and ask them to squeeze and loosen to make sure the muscles are working properly — a CT scan won't show us that.

9. When people come in with symptoms that hint at bowel inflammation, we're usually looking for things like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.

10. We don't do surgeries, but we do perform procedures like colonoscopies and upper endoscopies so we can check out your digestive system.

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Gastroenterologists don't do incisions or surgical removals and repairs within the gastrointestinal tracts. We primarily do procedures called upper endoscopies — examining the esophagus, stomach, and small intestines by way of the mouth — and colonoscopies, where we examine the lining of the large intestine, colon, and rectum by way of the butt.

11. And those entail sticking a long flexible tube with a light and camera, called a scope, either down your throat or up your butt.

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The scope projects an image onto a TV screen, which we watch as we move it through the upper or lower GI tracts, depending on the procedure we're doing. We use dials and knobs on the scope to advance it up or down the tract and can also attach tools to the scope in case we need to do a biopsy, which involves removing a bit of tissue and examining it to determine the presence, cause, or extent of a disease.

13. You'll have to ~prep~ for a colonoscopy, which means taking a laxative, or something similar, so that there's no poop backed up in your system. This lets the scope roam your colon freely.

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To prep for a colonoscopy, you usually have to drink only clear liquids for at least 24 hours before the procedure and take a laxative or cleansing solution, ordered by the physician, to clear out all the stool so that your intestines can be seen.

For an upper endoscopy, you're usually not allowed any food or drinks for six hours before the procedure because being on an empty stomach will allow the GI to have the best view of your upper GI tract and carry out the safest exam.

15. Wielding that scope through the anus and the rest of the digestive tract can be hard work; many GIs even end up with muscle pain and arthritis symptoms earlier in life because of it.

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Procedures can be exhausting. You're on your feet all day, wielding a scope, and using the dials to move it back and forth, all while turning your head awkwardly to see the screen, which really hurts your neck. There's also a lot of fine motor work that goes into working the dials on the scope. So one hand is always operating the dials, while the other is pushing the scope through the colon.

16. Some people have ~tortuous colons~, which can be harder to navigate for GIs.

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Everyone’s colons take twists and turns, but some people have longer colons than others (also known as a "tortuous colon"), which can be hard to navigate because you have to do a lot of special maneuvers to get the scope through safely.

Some people have also gotten colorectal surgery and have scar tissue so that can make the colon harder to navigate as well.

17. Polyps can grow on the lining of the colon and need to be removed during colonoscopies in case they become cancerous.

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Polyps are small clumps of cells that form on the colon and usually need to be removed around the time you're 50. There are tools that GIs can attach to a scope so that the polyps can be taken out during a colonoscopy. Some polyps can develop into colon cancer, which can be fatal if they aren't caught early on.

Sometimes a polyp will be too big, or on an area of the colon that’s too risky to remove by colonoscopy. So we will have to plan for you to see a colorectal surgeon to get it taken out. If you routinely see a doctor at the recommended age (more on this soon), you can likely prevent colon cancer and avoid surgery.

18. Rectal bleeding, unexplained weight loss, and bowel movements that disrupt your sleep are definitely signs that you should see a gastroenterologist.

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You can have diarrhea all day long, but a sign that it's much more serious is if your bowel movements are breaking through your sleep and waking you up. You should come in for these symptoms sooner, rather than later.

19. But just because you may not have "symptoms," that doesn't mean you're free of polyps, lumps, or abnormalities that could potentially become cancerous.

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You could be completely regular with your bowel movements and have no issues with your digestive tract, but still have polyps and lumps and abnormalities that could be or potentially become cancerous. If you don't have a family history of colon problems, you probably won’t develop these until mid-life. However, rates of colon cancer among young people are rising.

20. That's why anyone over the age of 50, and anyone younger with a family history of colon problems, should get a colonoscopy.

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People with an average risk should start getting screened for colon cancer (which will likely include a colonoscopy) starting at age 50. If you have a family history of colon problems or you have any new GI symptoms (like a change in bowel habits, bleeding, abdominal pain), you should be screened before then.

Here are the complete recommendations for colon cancer screening depending on your unique risk factors.

21. Yes, you can still get a colonoscopy done while on your period.

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We have to remind people that we go through your rectum with the scope, and that's a completely different hole from where the blood is coming out.

22. One of the most emotional parts of the job is when people come in with colon cancer, because it's often preventable with regular screenings.

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Please, never let embarrassment keep you from coming to the doctor’s office. Even if we don’t make a diagnosis, we can give you some tips to minimize your symptoms and get you educated on what's going on inside your body. There's nothing you can come in with that we haven’t seen and can't help you with.

Colon cancer is incredibly preventable if you catch it at the right time. But if you come in too late and the cancer is in its later stages, there is a high chance that it will be fatal.

23. Please don't self-diagnose yourself with celiac disease or gluten intolerance and go off of gluten before coming to see us. That will only make it harder for us to help you.

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When people self-diagnose and cut gluten (or anything else) from their diets, we have to put them back on it in order to see their body's response to it and diagnose and treat what's going on. Even if you have the disease, it's hard to test positive for celiac disease if there's no gluten in your diet. And it's already hard to distinguish between people who have celiac and people who just have a hard time digesting gluten.

Either way, come to us before you make any drastic changes to your diet so that we can establish a baseline and follow your progress.

24. Also, prescribing your own treatment (after self-diagnosing) can be dangerous and delay the help that could potentially save your life.

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There are certain diagnoses you obviously don’t want to delay. You don’t want to be treating yourself for the wrong thing and then find out months later you actually have something else and now it's much more serious than it would've been if you had gotten checked out sooner.

Most of us went through undergraduate school, four years of medical school, three years of residency, and three years of fellowship (and some even take an extra year to focus on procedures or treating IBS), so please let us do the diagnosing.

25. To keep a healthy digestive tract, eat a high-fiber diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, make sure you drink a lot of water, and please, please stop smoking.

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Staying hydrated will help you help flush out your system and keep everything moving smoothly, while eating a high fiber diet with nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables can keep your bowel movements regular. Who doesn't want that?

26. And please, please stop smoking cigarettes.

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Smoking has been tied to an increased risk of peptic ulcers, heartburn, gallstones, Crohn's disease, liver disease, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and other common disorders in the digestive system. Just stop.

27. Yes, we sometimes get GI-related emergency calls in the middle of the night.

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Patients can't help when they experience serious rectal bleeding, rectal or abdominal pain, fevers, stool leakage, etc., so we give out our phone numbers and are almost always on call just in case someone needs to see us.

28. Sometimes we have to complete 47-hour shifts and then drive home, sleep a little, and be ready to do it all again.

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Emergency situations are just added to what you already have on your schedule for the day. So if we get a phone call in the middle of the night, we'll go to the hospital, work till the morning, and then go straight to all our client meetings in the morning.

29. Ever wonder why someone would go into gastroenterology? To put it simply, we want to help people with everything from poop troubles to cancer.

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Many of us got into the field to potentially save someone's life from colon cancer or help people who suffer from debilitating conditions like inflammatory bowel disease.

30. Overall, if you're experiencing GI symptoms, it's ALWAYS better to be cautious and just make an appointment.

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The GI track is really complicated. So if you’re having acute symptoms that came on suddenly out of the blue, you’re having trouble eating, or if you’ve been having chronic symptoms with relative frequency, it’d be safer to come in and get checked out. You don’t want to miss out on a more serious diagnosis, so always err on the side of seeing a gastroenterologist.

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