When Should I See a Colorectal Surgeon?

When Should I See a Colorectal Surgeon?

“When should I see a colorectal surgeon?” If something's not right with your digestive tract, that question may be heavy on your mind. As a general rule, bleeding, pain and changes in your bowel habits warrant a trip to the doctor. Which doctor should you see, though?

Ahead, you'll learn more about what a colorectal surgeon does, the types of conditions that these surgeons treat, and guidelines that can help you know when and where to pursue treatment.

Gastroenterologists vs. Colorectal Surgeons

Both gastroenterologists and colorectal surgeons are doctors who specialize in issues related to the digestive tract. Colonoscopy is one procedure that both gastroenterologists and colorectal surgeons do. For the most part, however, their areas of practice don’t overlap.

Gastroenterologists are doctors who study internal medicine and specialize in gastroenterology. They are often involved in diagnosing and medically managing conditions related to the digestive system.

Gastroenterologists don’t perform surgery, so they may refer patients to colorectal surgeons. Rather than being experts in internal medicine, colorectal specialists are doctors with extensive training in general surgery. They also have specialized training in surgical procedures for the lower digestive tract — the colon and the rectum.

In addition, colorectal surgeons can also provide non-surgical treatment guidance and perform minimally invasive procedures. Those are often tried before undertaking major surgeries on the colon or rectum.

Times to See a Colorectal Surgeon

Now that you know colorectal surgeons’ specialty area, you’re ready to get down into the specifics of times when you should make an appointment with this type of doctor. While not all-inclusive, the following list will give you an idea of the types of conditions that colorectal surgeons treat.


Colon or rectal cancer often requires surgical treatment to remove the cancerous tissue. Surgery may be paired with chemotherapy or other interventions. If surgery is required, a colorectal surgeon is the person for the job.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Also known as IBD, this category of conditions includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. While medical management is typically involved in IBD, surgery is sometimes required as well. For example, a surgeon may need to remove a portion of the colon that has been significantly affected by the disease.


Hemorrhoids are inflamed blood vessels in the rectum. Not every hemorrhoid requires an immediate trip to a colorectal surgeon, but that doesn’t mean you should wait for your condition to become severe before scheduling an appointment.

Colorectal surgeons have many tools for hemorrhoid treatment at their disposal. Because of their expertise with this part of the body, they can recommend the best approach for your needs.

In many cases, hemorrhoid banding, a minimally invasive procedure, is used to treat moderate hemorrhoids. The Adler Ligator is a disposable instrument for the job.

Anal Fistula

An unnatural tract that connects your rectal wall to the outside of your body is known as an anal fistula. There’s no way to manage this condition with medication alone.

Traditional surgeries involve opening up the fistula tract or excising it from the body. Laser ablation with the neoV Laser is a minimally invasive alternative in which laser energy is used to seal the tract shut.

Pilonidal Sinus

Pilonidal sinuses, also known as pilonidal cysts, are tracts that go from the cleft of the buttocks to an abscess under your skin. The abscess can fill with hair, dead skin, pus and bacteria.

For short-term relief of a pilonidal cyst, a healthcare provider can cut open the nearby skin and drain the cavity. The infection may eventually come back. Getting rid of it for good requires surgery or laser ablation.

Symptoms That Warrant a Colorectal Surgeon

There are symptoms that indicate it’s time to get help for your colorectal health. You may need to see a colorectal surgeon if you’re experiencing:

  • Abdominal bloating
  • Anal itching
  • Blood in your stool or on your toilet paper
  • Chronic constipation or diarrhea
  • Fecal incontinence
  • Pain in the abdomen or rectum
  • Unexplained change in appetite or weight

If you aren’t sure whether your symptoms require a colorectal surgeon’s help, start with your general physician. That doctor may be able to provide a diagnosis or address minor colorectal issues. If needed, the doctor will recommend that you see a specialist.

Tips for Selecting a Colorectal Specialist

Once you’ve decided that it’s time to see a colorectal specialist, you’ll want to make sure you’re choosing the right one. Take the following factors into account as you weigh your options:

  • Board certification: Credentials from the American Board of Colon and Rectal Surgery demonstrate that a surgeon has received specialized training and kept up with continuing education.
  • Experience with certain procedures: For a minimally invasive procedure, such as laser ablation or hemorrhoid banding, select a specialist with experience in that treatment option. The Adler MicroMed Find a Doctor tool can help you locate the right surgeon.
  • Referrals: You may be referred to a colorectal surgeon by your general physician or your gastroenterologist. That practitioner may recommend a particular surgeon.

This video covers questions you may want to ask the specialist:

When Should I See a Colorectal Surgeon?

Colorectal surgeons specialize in medical concerns related to the lower portion of the intestinal tract. They can perform surgery, conduct minimally invasive procedures, and support your colorectal health. If you are experiencing symptoms related to this area of the body, it may be time to schedule an appointment with a colorectal surgeon.

As with all medical issues, your physician is the ultimate source as to what procedure best fits your needs. Discuss all options and get a second opinion if you have any doubts. These articles are intended to be a source of general information only.

Brian Chandler