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What is Gastroenterology

What is Gastroenterology

Gastroenterology is a branch of medicine that covers the working of the digestive system. This branch of medicine has been studied since ancient times, almost dating back to the year 2000 BC. The article sheds some light on this field.
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Gastroenterology is a term that is usually defined as: a medical branch that studies the gastrointestinal tract and the diseases related to it. This term has been derived from the Greek words, gastros, enteron, and logos, which mean stomach, intestine, and reason respectively. Besides the study of the digestive system, this medical branch also includes the study of the organs that lie between the mouth and the anus. The diseases and disorders affecting these organs are also studied. Experts and physicians working in this field are known as 'gastroenterologists'.


The history of this branch of medicine, can be traced down to ancient Egypt. During the period of 10th Dynasty of the Pharaohs (2125 BC), Irynakhty was the court physician, who conducted extensive research in this field. Gastroenterological research was also carried out by the Greek philosophers, Hippocrates and Galen.

In the 18th century, gastroenterology began to develop as an independent discipline of medical sciences. During 1729 AD and 1799 AD, Italian biologist, Lazzaro Spallanzani, conducted research on the importance of gastric juices, and their role in the digestion of foods consumed. In 1767, Johann Georg Ritter von Zimmermann, a Swiss-German physician, published some of his highly noted works regarding dysentery. The following year, Maximilian Stoll, a Vienna-based physician, completed his research on gallbladder diseases.

In 1805, Philipp Bozzini studied the urinary tract, rectum, and pharynx. He did so, by using an instrument known as the Lichtleiter. This research is considered to be the first example of an endoscopy. The gastroscope was developed in 1868, by the German medical practitioner, Adolf Kussmaul. In 1871, at a meeting of the Physicians of Vienna, Carl Stoerk demonstrated the use of the esophagoscope.

The work of Rudolph Schindler in the 20th century, earned him the title 'Father of Gastroscopy'. He successfully innovated and made the first semi-flexible gastroscope in 1932. The fabric gastroscope was introduced by Basil Hirschowitz in 1957.

In 2005, Barry Marshall and Robin Warren received the Noble Prize for their research regarding Helicobacter pylori, an infection-causing bacteria inside the stomach.

Gastroenterologists study the gastrointestinal tract, which is also referred to as the digestive tract or the alimentary canal. It spans from the mouth to the anus. For the purpose of study, they have divided the tract into the upper tract and the lower tract. The mouth, pharynx, esophagus, stomach, and the duodenum are included in the upper tract, while the intestines and the anus are included in the lower tract. Physicians or surgeons specialize in either the upper or the lower tract. Some organs that are closely connected to the digestive tract, like the liver or the gallbladder, are also studied as the accessory organs. The different types of digestive juices, and digestive processes are also included in the study of the digestive tract.

The field of gastroenterology has played a highly instrumental role in the advancement of medical science. Research in this field, conducted in the past and even in the modern era, has helped medical professionals save many lives.

Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.