Treating the Digestive System

Gastroenterology Services at Temecula Valley Hospital, Temecula, California

The digestive system consists of a series of organs that help the body break down and absorb food to create energy. Gastroenterology focuses on the causes, prevention, diagnoses and treatment of diseases of the digestive system including the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, colon and rectum, pancreas, gallbladder and bile ducts.

Conditions and Symptoms

Gastroenterologists at Temecula Valley Hospital identify the signs and symptoms of digestive system problems, including:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Acid reflux or heartburn
  • Blood in vomit or stool
  • Bloating or gas
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Indigestion
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

GERD, also known as acid reflux disease, affects millions of Americans. GERD occurs when stomach acids or intestinal bile leak back from the stomach into the esophagus (the tube that runs from the mouth to the stomach), a process called gastroesophageal reflux. Reflux can irritate the esophagus, cause heartburn and other symptoms and damage the esophagus.

While heartburn is the most common symptom, other symptoms include:

  • Regurgitation
  • Hoarseness
  • Belching
  • Sore throat
  • Asthma-like symptoms
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Excessive throat clearing
  • Persistent cough
  • Bloating
  • Burning in the mouth or throat

Treatments for GERD include medications such as proton pump inhibitors, which inhibit gastric cells from producing acid as part of the digestive process; and surgery such as laparoscopic fundoplication, in which the gastric fundus (upper part) of the stomach is dissected and wrapped around the lower esophageal sphincter to reconstruct a new barrier.

An alternative surgery is the LINX® Reflux Management System. This innovative treatment features an implantable device that strengthens a weak lower esophageal sphincter and restores the sphincter competence, thus maintaining a closed position to protect the esophagus from harmful gastric reflux.

Podcast: Heartburn Awareness with Surgical Options

In this segment, Dr. Benjamin Leong discusses symptoms of heartburn, and the surgical treatment options available.

Testing for Gastrointestinal Problems

Diagnosing your symptoms is the first step to successful treatment, including looking at your medical history and conducting a physical exam. Your physician may use lab tests, imaging tests or endoscopic procedures, in which a small camera is inserted into the body to look for issues, to help make a diagnosis.

Tests include:

  • Screening for colon cancer
  • Lab tests that look for blood in the stool
  • Imaging tests that help show how your digestive system processes food and waste
  • Tests that help show the strength and function of the esophagus, rectum or anus


During a colonoscopy, the physician will look inside of the entire colon and rectum for polyps, small growths that over time can become cancer. A colonoscope — a thin, flexible, hollow and lighted tube that has a tiny video camera — is gently eased into the colon by the physician and sends pictures to a TV screen. Small amounts of air are puffed into the colon to keep it open and let the physician see clearly. The exam takes about 30 minutes. Patients are usually given medicine to help them relax and sleep while it is performed.

Flexible Sigmoidoscopy

During a sigmoidoscopy, a physician closely looks only at the lower part of the colon and the rectum for signs of cancer or polyps. Because the scope used is only about two feet long, the physician is able to see the entire rectum but less than half of the colon with this exam. The physician uses a thin (about the thickness of a finger), flexible, hollow, lighted tube that has a tiny video camera on the end called a sigmoidoscope. The sigmoidoscope is gently eased inside the colon and sends pictures to a TV screen. Small amounts of air are puffed into the colon to keep it open and let the physician see clearly.

Removing polyps can help prevent colorectal cancer from ever starting. Cancers found in an early stage, while they are small and before they have spread, are more easily treated. Nine out of 10 people whose colon cancer is discovered early will be alive five years later, according to The American Cancer Society. And many will live a normal life span.

Upper Endoscopy

Upper endoscopy lets your physician examine the lining of the upper gastrointestinal tract, which includes the esophagus, stomach and duodenum. This procedure helps to evaluate symptoms of upper abdominal pain, including nausea, vomiting or difficulty swallowing. It's the best test for finding the cause of bleeding from the upper GI tract. It's also more accurate than X-ray films for detecting inflammation, ulcers and tumors of the esophagus, stomach and duodenum. The physician uses a thin, flexible tube called an endoscope, which has its own lens and light source, and views the images on a video monitor.

Your physician might use upper endoscopy to obtain a biopsy to distinguish between benign and malignant (cancerous) tissues. Biopsies are taken for many reasons, and your physician might order one even if he or she does not suspect cancer. For example, your physician might use a biopsy to test for Helicobacter pylori, the bacterium that causes ulcers.

Upper endoscopy is also used to treat conditions of the upper gastrointestinal tract. Your physician can pass instruments through the endoscope to directly treat many abnormalities — this will cause you little or no discomfort.

Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography

Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography, or ERCP, is a specialized technique used to study the bile ducts, pancreatic duct and gallbladder. Ducts are drainage routes; the drainage channels from the liver are called bile or biliary ducts. The pancreatic duct is the drainage channel from the pancreas.

During ERCP, your physician will pass an endoscope through your mouth, esophagus and stomach into the small intestine. After your physician sees the common opening to the ducts from the liver and pancreas, called the major duodenal papilla, your physician will pass a narrow plastic tube called a catheter through the endoscope and into the ducts. Your physician will inject a dye into the pancreatic or biliary ducts and will take X-rays.

Podcast: Heartburn, Barrett’s, Hiatal Hernia and Esophageal Cancer

In this segment, Dr. Indraneek Chakrabarty discusses how heartburn, hiatal hernia, Barrett's esophagus and esophageal cancer are related, and the treatment options available.

Make an Appointment

To make an appointment with a gastroenterologist at Temecula Valley Hospital, please call 855-859-5203.