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What does a Pediatric Gastroenterologist do?

A Pediatric Gastroenterologist specializes in diagnosing and treating digestive system issues in children, from minor to severe. They handle conditions like food allergies, reflux, and more serious diseases like Crohn's. How does early detection and treatment impact a child's long-term health?
D. Jeffress
D. Jeffress

A pediatric gastroenterologist specializes in identifying and treating digestive tract problems in young patients. He or she possesses expert knowledge of digestive disorders as well as the unique developmental issues that face some infants and children. Doctors assess the results of clinical tests, prescribe medications, and administer minimally invasive treatment procedures. Experienced pediatric gastroenterologists work in many different settings, including children's hospitals, general hospitals, specialty clinics, and private offices.

Most patients that pediatric gastroenterologists see have been referred to them by primary care pediatricians. When meeting with a new patient and his or her parents, the gastroenterologist asks questions about symptoms and reviews previous medical findings to get a basic understanding of the problem. The doctor usually conducts a physical examination and takes diagnostic images of the gastrointestinal tract to look for physical abnormalities. He or she may also decide to collect blood and urine samples for laboratory analysis.

Blood and urine samples may be collected for laboratory analysis.
Blood and urine samples may be collected for laboratory analysis.

Pediatric gastroenterologists see patients who have common digestive problems, such as diarrhea and lactose intolerance, as well as more complex issues, such as Crohn's disease and pancreatitis. Such disorders often require more detailed diagnostic procedures. A doctor may need to insert an endoscope, a tiny camera on the end of a lighted tube, through the mouth and into the gastrointestinal tract to discover inflammation or blockages.

A pediatric gastroenterologist specializes in treating digestive problems in young patients.
A pediatric gastroenterologist specializes in treating digestive problems in young patients.

After making a certain diagnosis, the pediatric gastroenterologist can determine the appropriate treatment measures to take. Many problems can be treated with prescription medications and laxatives, though more direct therapies are needed for difficult cases. Blockages and structural disorders often require surgery to prevent serious health complications. A pediatric gastroenterologist may be able to perform simple procedures that can be accomplished with an endoscope in his or her office. If a problem cannot be corrected without major intervention, the doctor can refer the patient to an experienced pediatric surgeon.

Many pediatric gastroenterologists work in children's hospitals.
Many pediatric gastroenterologists work in children's hospitals.

An individual who wants to become a pediatric gastroenterologist must complete four years of medical school followed by up to seven years of practical training. After earning a doctor of medicine degree, a new doctor usually joins a three-year internal medicine residency program at a general hospital to gain supervised experience working directly with patients of all ages. He or she then enters a two- to four-year specialty fellowship, during which time the doctor works exclusively with young patients who suffer from digestive disorders. Following a fellowship and success on a board certification exam, a pediatric gastroenterologist can begin practicing independently.

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Discussion Comments


I live in a country with a universal health care system (so you can go ahead and guess what country I'm in). I started getting symptoms at 12 years old: severe stomach pain, extreme nausea, pain, intense diarrhea with blood (25 times a day or more). I got worse and worse and worse. At first,I only missed a day of school here and there. After a few months, I was so sick I was lying on our couch, in agony, and so anemic I couldn't stand up. The only time I moved was when I had to transfer into the bathroom, where I would be for 30-40 minutes.

We saw our family doctor (I started showing symptoms in April, we saw the doctor a month or so later, when it wasn't getting better). He sent us to a pediatric doctor. For months, she insisted nothing was wrong, that my mother was neurotic, that I was obviously a healthy child. Because it's a universal health care system, you have no control over whether you see a specialist or not. You must be referred by your family doctor, or you cannot see one. My doctor wouldn't refer me until my parents insisted.

When I was referred to the pediatric gastroenterologist (there was only one in our area), we were given an appointment for February of the next year (it was August of the previous year). Meanwhile, I was getting sicker and sicker and the primary doctor still insisted nothing was wrong.

Finally, my parents called and said I would need to be seen sooner (waiting lists are the downfall of universal health care), and they said there was nothing they could do. Eventually, they changed my appointment to December. So, between symptoms and diagnosis, I had to wait eight months. In that time, I got so sick, by the time they diagnosed me (ulcerative colitis), I was almost too far gone to save. They sent me back home (with no real treatment), and within three months I was almost dead. They refused to admit me to the hospital.

My dad is a surgeon, and he had to call the ped gastro and said that if I wasn't admitted by that night, he would sue the hospital. They admitted me that day. They then told me it was too late, I was too sick, they had waited too long to treat me, and I had to have emergency surgery a couple of weeks later (which I had a 50/50 percent chance of surviving at that point), to have my entire large intestine removed. Three surgeries later, they created a j-pouch. I've had that ever since, but have developed a series of significant medical problems since. I now have Crohn's, pouchitis/Crohn's Disease of the J-Pouch, fistula, fissures, cuffitis, acute pancreatitis, and a bunch of other treatment-related problems. I'm old enough now to be under a regular gastroenterologist's treatment, and so my treatment has improved.

The treatment I got as a child was horrific, and there was severe medical negligence occurring through all stages of "treatment". Don't trust a doctor just because you feel you should. Demand the treatment/tests you want, or feel your child needs. Your doctor doesn't know your child as you do.


I took my son to a pediatric gastroenterologist when he was five. He kept crying and saying that his guts hurt. He was having a dull, severe pain across his navel, and he could not sit up straight or stand erect. He had not had a bowel movement in five days, despite the laxative I had given him.

The gastroenterologist inserted an endoscope through his mouth and into his intestines to look for blockages. She found a chewed up plastic toy in there. He admitted to eating it.

His system had been unable to digest the plastic, so it just sat there, keeping everything from moving through. She had to give him an enema to suck it out, and he experienced a small amount of bleeding from the rough edges of the toy. From that day on, he never ate anything but food.


I am thankful for the knowledge of my pediatric gastroenterologist. He helped diagnose my child when two general practitioners could not.

My daughter had been having horrible pain in her abdomen. She said that it went all the way through to her back. She had a fever, and she kept vomiting.

She had gotten the flu three weeks prior to this, but she had been over it for more than a week. The regular doctors just thought she was having a relapse.

When I told the gastroenterologist that she had just got over the flu, he knew that it must be pancreatitis. Some viral infections can cause this in children, and the flu is one of them.

He did an ultrasound of her abdomen to make sure. She had to stay in the hospital for awhile to recover, and I was so glad that she finally got better.


Wow, that sounds like an awfully long training period! I thought it took most doctors about eight years to be ready for their own practice. A pediatric gastroenterologist must have special requirements because he will be working specifically with certain diseases in children only.

All of the doctors in this field that I have ever seen have had gray hair. I have never met a young one, and now I understand why. I guess that they are all super-qualified to practice because of their extensive period of education and experience. This should make parents feel more confident of their abilities.


My pediatric gastroenterologist diagnosed me with Crohn’s disease at a young age. When I told her my symptoms, she knew right away what to suspect. She ordered a colonoscopy to confirm her suspicions.

I had been having sudden diarrhea. It would hit me and I would barely have time to make it to a bathroom. It was accompanied by severe cramps and nausea. Those cramps were excruciating.

I had missed so much school that I barely passed the third grade. It was good to talk to a specialist who knows her field and get a solid diagnosis. She gave me a medicine that reduced my symptoms.


I know that when it comes to dealing with stomach issues with your kids, it can be pretty frustrating. This can be even more frustrating when your doctor can't really find anything wrong, and they are not sure what to do next.

In our situation, we live close to a clinic that has several gastroenterology specialists. My son continued to complain about his stomach bothering him, so we made an appointment with a doctor at this clinic.

Since the doctor was a specialist and sees these kinds of problems all the time, I felt much better about finding out what was wrong. After all of that, we found out he was lactose intolerant.

It was amazing what a difference it made when we eliminated foods from his diet that were aggravating his stomach.


My friends daughter kept complaining of her stomach hurting and she was referred to a pediatric gastroenterology doctor. They had tried many of the over the counter medications for those that have gastritis and digestive problems, but nothing worked for her very long.

They performed an endoscopy to get a better idea of what was going on with her. They did end up prescribing her another medication and said it was something that she should outgrow in time.

On one hand they were relieved there was nothing seriously wrong, but were frustrated that she had to continue taking medication. It was helpful to see a specialist who worked with kids having these kinds of issues every day.


@lonelygod - As a parent I am really disgusted with what your pediatrician did to you. Tell you everything was in your head just so you didn't have to go to school is a bit much! I am really shocked at the poor care you received.

When my kids are sick I always on sit on them being referred to the proper specialist. If you have ongoing stomach issues, then yes, a paediatric gastroenterologist is the way to go.

I honestly believe that some doctors just don't like admitting they don't know what is really going on. There are some tests though that can only be performed by a specialist. I think everyone really needs to learn their place.


When I as in elementary school my pediatrician sent me to see a paediatric gastroenterologist because I was having a lot of stomach pain. I was actually in and out of the hospital a lot for severe intestinal cramping and constant nausea. I remember my original pediatrician was a bit of a jerk and kept insisting that I was making up my stomach issues to get out of school. How wrong he was!

When I went to a paediatric gastroenterologist she made me have a endoscope and they discovered that I had a pretty bad internal infection that was causing a lot of pain. Apparently there was scarring all through my lower intestine. My pediatric gastroenterologist was not impressed by my regular doctor.

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    • Blood and urine samples may be collected for laboratory analysis.
      By: angellodeco
      Blood and urine samples may be collected for laboratory analysis.
    • A pediatric gastroenterologist specializes in treating digestive problems in young patients.
      By: Balint Radu
      A pediatric gastroenterologist specializes in treating digestive problems in young patients.
    • Many pediatric gastroenterologists work in children's hospitals.
      By: Darren Baker
      Many pediatric gastroenterologists work in children's hospitals.
    • Many gastrointestinal issues in children can be treated with prescription medications.
      By: Ermolaev Alexandr
      Many gastrointestinal issues in children can be treated with prescription medications.
    • A pediatric gastroenterologist may perform tests and simple procedures using an endoscope.
      By: sudok1
      A pediatric gastroenterologist may perform tests and simple procedures using an endoscope.
    • A pediatric gastroenterologist may treat patients suffering from Crohn's disease, which causes inflammation of the lining of the small intestine.
      By: designua
      A pediatric gastroenterologist may treat patients suffering from Crohn's disease, which causes inflammation of the lining of the small intestine.