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Pediatric Gastroenterology

Doctors specializing in pediatric gastroenterology diagnose and treat infants and children with problems of the digestive system, liver and gallbladder. Specialists also diagnose and treat nutritional problems.

Childhood colon and rectal ailments

The process of diagnosing and treating children differs from adults. For example, children can't always verbalize their symptoms. Pediatric gastroenterologists have been trained to examine children and make them feel comfortable. This specialist focuses on treating children suffering from such symptoms as constipation, diarrhea, gallstones, vomiting, inadequate weight gain, abdominal pain and gastrointestinal bleeding.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is one of the most common health problems treated by gastroenterologists. Other common health problems, especially in older children, are excessive diarrhea, Crohn's disease and irritable bowel syndrome. Irritable bowel syndrome starts with irritation of the stomach lining and the small intestine, which causes uncomfortable digestion. Crohn's disease is similar to irritable bowel syndrome except that it also may affect the large intestine.

Lactose intolerance is the most common gastroenterology health problem for infants and can cause stomach pain, gas and diarrhea. Lactose is a sugar found in dairy products, infant formulas and breast milk. A gastroenterologist can suggest different formulas that offer the same nutritional benefits without the lactose as well as medications to relieve the symptoms.

Visiting a pediatric gastroenterologist

Most children who visit a gastroenterologist will not need special treatments or procedures. They can expect a basic examination and a few simple questions. For many children, however, the experience is scary, so you should prepare your child before your visit.

Before going to the appointment, make a list of the problems your child is experiencing, such as vomiting or diarrhea. Remember to make note of how long problems have occurred, how often the child vomits or has diarrhea and how the appetite is.

When you arrive at the gastroenterologist office, you will fill out the paperwork and present your health insurance information. To help you child feel involved and at ease, encourage him or her to answer as many questions as possible about symptoms.

When entering the examination room, your child is usually asked to undress and put on a paper gown. The nurse will weigh and measure your child before taking a temperature, blood pressure and other vital signs. When the doctor comes in, her or she will want to find out the symptoms your child has been experiencing.

After talking with you and your child, the gastroenterologist may want to run a few tests and procedures to reach a solid diagnosis. Tests typically include X-rays, endoscope evaluations, ultrasounds and colonoscopies. If your child needs to undergo further testing or procedures, these will most likely be scheduled for a different day.

The doctor may suggest many treatments to ease your child's symptoms. In many situations, the treatment may simply be a change in diet, but the doctor will discuss the options with you and your child to decide the best treatment.

Finding a pediatric gastroenterologist

If you have concerns about your child's digestive health, first schedule a visit to the pediatrician's office. After an examination, the pediatrician may recommend you visit a pediatric gastroenterology specialist. Most insurance companies need a referral from your pediatrician, who will be able to recommend a local gastroenterologist specializing in pediatrics.

If you'd prefer to find a pediatric gastroenterologist on your own, there are several ways to find a local office. If you have health insurance, visit your insurance company's website to find gastroenterologists on their list of providers. Consider contacting a local children's hospital for a recommendation. Pediatric gastroenterologists practice in a vast array of settings, including private practices, hospitals and university medical centers, so make sure the physician you choose is connected to a hospital or clinic covered by your insurance company.

Create a list of pediatric gastroenterologist you're considering and verify their qualifications, education, continuing education, accepted insurance plans and affiliated hospitals with Angie's List, where you can also see member reviews and rankings.