Gastroenterology

Rely on the experts at Essentia Health to help you manage the symptoms and discomfort associated with digestive health disorders. Our experienced gastroenterologists treat everything from ulcers and acid reflux to liver conditions and Crohn’s disease. We will work with you to diagnosis your condition and develop a personalized treatment plan to improve your health and wellbeing.

What's a Gastroenterologist?

A gastroenterologist is an internal medicine doctor with specialized training in the diagnosis and treatment of the liver and digestive system, or gastrointestinal (GI) tract. The GI tract includes the stomach, intestines, esophagus, liver, pancreas, gallbladder, colon, and rectum.

When to See a Specialist

Talk to your primary care doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Stomach pain
  • Abdominal pain
  • Heartburn
  • Indigestion
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Trouble swallowing

Your doctor may refer you to a gastroenterologist for more specialized care and diagnostic testing.

Conditions Treated

See the full list of conditions we treat, and select a condition to find providers and locations near you.

Conditions

Your First Visit

During your first visit, you and your gastroenterologist will discuss your symptoms, lifestyle, diet, and personal and family medical history. Expect a head-to-toe exam and, if necessary, follow-up testing.

After a diagnosis is made, your doctor will talk with you about treatment options.

TeleVideo Exam Follow-Up Visits

If your gastroenterologist’s office isn’t near your hometown, ask if your follow-up visits can take place by TeleVideo Exam. More Information You’ll visit your local Essentia clinic and use live video and audio technology to talk to your gastroenterologist. This can save you time and reduce your travel expenses.

Diagnostic Tests & Treatments

The experienced digestive disease specialists at Essentia Health offer comprehensive GI care including the following diagnostic tests and treatments:

  • Bravo pH monitoring – Attaches a tiny capsule to your esophagus (swallowing tube) for two days to measure acid and check for gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Breath testing – Measures certain gases in your breath to check for lactose intolerance, fructose intolerance, or digestive diseases
  • Colon cancer screenings – Look for signs of colon cancer before you notice symptoms
  • Endoscopy – Looks inside your digestive tract so doctors can test or treat it
  • Esophageal stenting – Places a tube in your esophagus to keep it open and help you swallow better
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy – Examines the rectum and lower colon
  • Inflammatory bowel disease medicine – Eases belly pain, diarrhea, and other symptoms in your colon
  • Liver care – Includes new medicines for hepatitis C, as well as care before and after liver transplant
  • Manometry – Slides a thin tube into your esophagus or rectum to check muscle strength

Colorectal Cancer Awareness

Medical Insight: Colorectal Cancer Awareness - Essentia Health Video Transcript

(DESCRIPTION)
The Essentia Health logo appears, consisting of three leaves in a circle. Medical Insights.

(SPEECH)
TRACY BRIGGS: Recently something got attention at Essentia Health-- a giant, inflatable walk-through colon. While it may seem unusual, Essentia uses this colon to educate others on the importance of colon health. It could also be a lifesaver, as colon cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in the US.

(DESCRIPTION)
A signs stands in front of a peach colored inflatable tunnel, It's National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Text, Dr. Kimberly Kolkhorst, Essentia Health Gastro enterologist

(SPEECH)
KIMBERLY KOLKHORST: Colorectal cancer starts typically as a small polyp within the lining of the colon. And then that grows and then eventually can turn into a colorectal cancer. TRACY BRIGGS: Dr. Kimberly Kolkhorst, a gastroenterologist at Essentia Health, says about one in every 23 people develop colorectal cancer. But if caught early, the five-year survival rates are 90%. KIMBERLY KOLKHORST: This is an important statistic, because with colon cancer screening, if you have a colonoscopy, then 90% of these polyps or colon cancers can be removed at the early stage.

(DESCRIPTION)
Colorectal Cancer Risk Factors

(SPEECH)
TRACY BRIGGS: Risk factors include being over the age of 50, the use of alcohol and tobacco, lack of physical exercise, a low fiber diet, having a family history of inflammatory intestinal conditions, or colon cancer. Dr. Kolkhorst says there are some things to watch out for. KIMBERLY KOLKHORST: Typically the symptoms that we look for could be a change in bowel habits, meaning you could have change. You can have constipation or diarrhea. You might see some blood in the stools. You might have abdominal pain. You could have unintentional weight loss.

(DESCRIPTION)
Text, Tracy Briggs, Essentia Health Medical Insight Host

(SPEECH)
TRACY BRIGGS: But sometimes there are no symptoms, which is why it's so important to be proactive and schedule your colonoscopy if you're over the age of 50, or earlier if you're having symptoms. KIMBERLY KOLKHORST: Colonoscopy is one day that can save your life. I've had so many people tell me it definitely beats having to have surgery and chemotherapy. So to come in and get your colonoscopy done, you'll have the peace of mind. You're good for either five or 10 years. And that is worth it for many people.

(DESCRIPTION)
A young man smiles and shakes hands with a man wearing a white lab coat and stethoscope.

(SPEECH)
TRACY BRIGGS: The good news is colorectal cancer survival rates are high when caught early. So if you have a family history or are over the age of 50, it's important to get screened. With this Essentia Health Medical Insight, I'm Tracy Briggs.

(DESCRIPTION)
The Essentia Health logo appears, consisting of three leaves in a circle. Medical Insight.

GERD

Medical Insight: GERD Video Transcript

(DESCRIPTION)
The Essentia Health logo appears, consisting of three leaves in a circle. Text, Essentia Health. Medical Insight. A pair of rich food dishes are presented.

(SPEECH)
TRACY BRIGGS: Almost everyone enjoys a rich, delicious meal, but suffers of GERD know they'll pay the price later. GERD stands for gastroesophageal reflux disease, a condition in which acidic contents from the stomach go up into the esophagus, causing pain or discomfort. Dr. Kimberly Kolkhorst course is the chair of the gastroenterology department at Essentia Health in Fargo. She says patients with GERD might complain about a feeling of food stuck in their throat, difficulty swallowing, throat clearing, nausea, or pain in the arm or jaw,

(DESCRIPTION)
Dr. Kimberly Kolkhorst, gastroenterologist, speaks to the camera from her office.

(SPEECH)
DR. KIMBERLY KOLKHORST: The main symptom people usually complain of is a true heartburn, where it's a burning sensation that they feel. It goes off the chest. Usually postprandial, meaning after they've eaten. And sometimes these symptoms can actually waken them at night, too. TRACY BRIGGS: Dr. Kolkhorst says GERD can run in families, and obesity can be a contributing factor.

(DESCRIPTION)
A graphic of a healthy stomach is visualized. Acid fills nearly to the top, near the closed sphincter. A second graphic depicts gerd, and an open sphincter, allowing reflux of the rising acid.

(SPEECH)
The culprit is a muscle at the bottom of the esophagus, which is supposed to tighten in between meals but somehow gets relaxed, allowing the acid to bubble up. DR. KIMBERLY KOLKHORST: Well, there's different things that relax that lower esophageal sphincter. Some of them is food triggers. So we say the five good things in life. So chocolate, caffeine, tobacco, alcohol, and peppermint. TRACY BRIGGS: Dr. Kolkhorst course says avoiding those things and losing weight, not wearing tight fitting garments and not lying down immediately after eating are the first lines of defense against GERD. She also recommends trying over-the-counter medications, such as H2 blockers or PPI's. If that still doesn't work, doctors can perform an endoscopy to detect signs of reflux damage. DR. KIMBERLY KOLKHORST: There is also a test called a bravo or a PH study. And we can actually pin a little device at the bottom of the esophagus, and that measures your pH and that's the true measure of acid. TRACY BRIGGS: Because GERD can manifest with chest pain, Dr. Kolkhorst says it's important to rule out heart symptoms first. So don't hesitate getting checked out by a doctor. With this Essentia Health Medical Insight, I'm Tracy Briggs.

(DESCRIPTION)
The Essentia Health logo appears, consisting of three leaves in a circle. Text, Essentia Health. Medical Insight.

Celiac Disease

Medical Insight: Celiac Disease Video Transcript

(DESCRIPTION)
Text, Essentia Health Medical Insight. Several wheat-based food products are displayed in a grocery store.

(SPEECH)
TRACY BRIGGS: Go to any major supermarket, and you'll find aisles of gluten-free products. Gluten, the protein found in wheat, rye, and barley, helps bread rise and gives pasta, noodles, and dough elasticity and a pleasing texture. But for the three million Americans suffering from celiac disease, gluten is anything but pleasing. Consuming it can lead to abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea. Dr. Kimberly Kolkhorst, a gastroenterologist at Essentia Health in Fargo, explains that the problem happens within the small intestine, where small finger-like projections, called villi, help the body absorb nutrients and vitamins. KIMBERLY KOLKHORST: Patients that have celiac disease, what happens is the exposure over time to gluten causes the vilii to then become blunted.

(DESCRIPTION)
Dr. Kolhorst uses a chart of the digestive system to explain.

(SPEECH)
And so as you can see in this pathological image, normally you would have nice finger-like projections. And then all of a sudden, everything gets blunted. TRACY BRIGGS: Because the celiac patient is less able to absorb nutrients, they can become iron, B12, and vitamin D deficient. This can lead to osteoporosis and other complications, including depression, anxiety, headaches, thyroid, and skin problems, on top of the gastrointestinal symptoms. Dr. Kolkhorst says if patients suspect they have celiac disease, blood tests and an endoscopy can confirm the diagnosis. Once a patient has been diagnosed, the first step is education. KIMBERLY KOLKHORST: And so with a dietician, they will go over anything that contains wheat, rye, or barley needs to be avoided. And then they teach you how to read the labels and look for different additives because that gluten sneaks in a lot of different places. TRACY BRIGGS: Dr. Kolkhorst says living a gluten-free life can be a challenge worth taking. KIMBERLY KOLKHORST: It's a very strict, difficult diet. However, my patients that stick with this diet, they feel so much better that they have no question. They want to keep doing this diet because it just makes such a big difference for them and their symptoms and in their quality of life. TRACY BRIGGS: With this Essentia Health medical insight, I'm Tracy Briggs.

(DESCRIPTION)
Text, Essentia Health Medical Insight.

Make an Appointment

To schedule an appointment, call 844-663-1068 from 8 am to 5 pm, Monday to Friday. You'll need a physician's referral for gastroenterology services in Central Minnesota.

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