A proctologist is a surgeon who specializes in diagnosing and treating disorders of the lower digestive tract, which includes the colon, rectum, and anus. Currently, proctologists are referred to as, “colorectal surgeons” or “colon and rectal surgeons.”
Proctologists work closely with gastrointestinal (GI) specialists, also known as Gastroenterologist, who provide complete care for disorders that affect the digestive system. A gastroenterologist is trained to do colonoscopies but they do not perform surgeries, while all proctologists are surgical specialists.
When do I need to see a proctologist?
The first step when you have any health issue is usually to see your primary physician. You might want to request a referral to a proctologist if you have any discomfort related to the anal and rectal region such as:
What do proctologists treat?
Proctologists usually treat the following conditions:
- Hemorrhoids: Swollen and inflamed veins in the lower rectum and anus, which can cause itching, pain, and bleeding.
- Anal fissures: Small tears in the anal lining.
- Abscesses: Collections of pus from an infection.
- Anal fistulas: Small abnormal channels in the tissue which may result from surgery or infection.
- Anal skin tags: Benign and painless skin growths.
- Diverticulitis: A condition in which small pouches (diverticula) form in weak spots in the digestive tract.
- Rectal prolapse: A condition in which the rectum slips out through the anal opening.
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): A chronic condition that causes bloating, pain, constipation, and diarrhea.
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD): A group of chronic disorders such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis which cause inflammation in the bowel lining.
- Colon polyps: Small, benign clumps of growths in the colon which have the potential to turn cancerous.
- Colon, rectal and anal cancers: Cancers that originate in these regions.
- Sexually transmitted infections (STIs): Infections in the genital and anal area include:
What types of procedures do proctologists do?
Proctologists perform several types of diagnostic and treatment procedures, in addition to surgeries. Proctologists examine the patient with instruments inserted through the anus into the rectum and colon. The instruments have lighted cameras that help visualize the colorectal passage, and also can be used to insert instruments for treatment procedures.
Following are some of the common procedures that proctologists perform:
- Endorectal ultrasound: Imaging test to detect colorectal cancers.
- Digital rectal examination: Physical examination of the rectum with a gloved finger.
- Anoscopy: Examination of the anal canal with an anoscope.
- Proctoscopy: Examination of the anus and lower part of the rectum.
- Sigmoidoscopy: Examination of the sigmoid colon, the lowermost part of the colon.
- Surgery: Surgery may be performed using techniques such as laparoscopy which is minimally invasive.
How do I find a proctologist?
Typically, you need a referral from your primary care physician (PCP) or your gastroenterologist to see a proctologist. Your doctor will refer you to a proctologist if your condition is complicated and requires surgery or other treatment by a proctologist.
How do you become a proctologist?
Proctology is a discipline that is highly specialized and requires several years of training. Proctologists need to be particularly sensitive and compassionate due to the highly personal nature of complaints they treat.
To become a proctologist, you are required to complete:
- Four years of undergraduate studies for a bachelor’s degree
- Four years of medical school
- Five years of training in general surgery
- One additional year of training in colorectal surgery
- Certification from the American Board of Colon and Rectal Surgery (ABCRS) or American Osteopathic Board of Proctology
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