When to See a Proctologist?

Medically reviewed by: Gary H. Hoffman, MD

Proctology is a term that relates to the branch of medicine aimed at diagnosing and treating diseases arising from the lower part of the gastrointestinal tract. These regions include the sigmoid colon, rectum, and anus.

The gastrointestinal tract traverses a digestive path from the mouth to the toilet. This includes the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine (colon), rectum and anus.

While a proctologist specifically focuses on the lower aspects of the digestive tract, keep in mind that some practitioners are also trained and qualified to operate on the rest of the gastrointestinal tract.

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What Does a Proctologist Do?

Proctologists are medical doctors who have undergone years of sub-specialty training and practice to demonstrate proficiency in surgical techniques and colonoscopy. Their training also requires mastery in correctly diagnosing and surgically treating colorectal disorders. They specialize in the surgical management of all things involving the sigmoid colon, rectum and anus, including:

  • Hemorrhoids
  • Incontinence
  • Rectal disorders
    • Prolapse
    • Bleeding
    • Polyps
    • Abscess drainage
  • Anal fissures
  • Colon and rectal cancer

In addition to surgical correction of medical disorders, proctologists use their expertise to also specialize in rejuvenation techniques. These techniques can aid in restoring parts of the digestive tract that have lost their grip, so to speak. For example, proctologists can use surgical techniques to help tighten the anal sphincter in cases of leakage or incontinence.

They can also assist in alleviating pelvic floor laxity such as a rectocele. This occurs when the rectal lining presses against the vagina, creating discomfort and potentially causing fistulas or other problematic and distressing symptoms.

When Should I Consider Visiting a Proctologist?

While these specially-trained physicians treat a wide variety of illnesses in the gastrointestinal tract, most patients don’t always know when a visit to a proctologist might be warranted. However, there are lots of reasons for patients of any age to seek treatment from a proctologist.

Many of the disorders that a proctologist treats are identified during regular check-ups with a primary care provider. Primary care providers constantly evaluate your laboratory and clinical data to catch any potential problems early in their course.

Some of the most common disorders for which your primary care provider may refer you to a proctologist include:

  • Anal leakage or discharge
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Lump found around the anus
  • Change in bowel habits
  • Change in bowel characteristics such as color or consistency
  • Red, swollen area on the buttocks such as an abscess
  • Advancing age

Cancer Screening

One of the most important clinical changes your family practitioner is vigilant to monitor is anything that might indicate colon or rectal cancer. There were nearly 140,000 new cases of colon or rectal cancer in the United States in 2017. Colorectal cancer is often found in more advanced stages than other cancers because it doesn’t demonstrate dramatic signs and symptoms.

The need for this careful assessment and what seems like constant blood draws when you get a physical at the primary care clinic is largely geared toward finding the small changes that indicate bigger issues. Colon cancer is particularly tough to identify early on because the symptoms are so subtle.

For example, your primary care provider may have you visit a proctologist if they discover anemia or low amounts of circulating red blood cells. This is because anemia can result from very small amounts of blood loss in the stool of affected patients. So little, in fact, that special tests are used to recognize if there is any blood in the stool.

How Do I Choose the Right Proctologist for Me?

Like any healthcare provider, it is important to find a proctologist who has an outstanding history of successfully diagnosing and treating diseases. It is also important to consider their limitations in treatment. Some practitioners are only comfortable treating the final sections of the digestive tract (sigmoid colon, rectum, and anus), while others cover the entire gastrointestinal tract. This can be important for continuity of care since you have only one doctor taking care of all your gastrointestinal needs.

It is also important to have doctors who care about you as an individual. Trusting your physician to make the right choice for you and your needs can alleviate your stress and improve care.

Final Thoughts

If you have any of the symptoms described above or would like a professional to address any concerns you may have, call us today and make an appointment with one of our colon and rectal healthcare professionals.

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