The majority of the population should go for a check-up at least once in a calendar year. However, many may be confused as to who to visit – a general practitioner, or an internist. Most of the times, both roles are performed by a single healthcare provider.
Physicians involved with the practice of internal medicine are known as internists or doctors of internal medicine.
What is Internal Medicine?
Internal medicine is a branch of science that includes a broad spectrum of diseases and disorders that impact the body’s internal organs, namely, the heart, the lungs, the liver along with gastrointestinal tract, the kidneys and urinary tract, the brain, spinal column, the nervous system, muscles and joints. Whilst the majority of conditions such as arteriosclerosis, diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer are common and impact the functionalities of several internal organs in the body, there are specific diseases that affect individual organs too.
Role of an Internist
The role of the internist is to be able to identify, categorise and eventually manage a significantly wide range of conditions of which some may be chronic with an individual patient having more than one disorder at a given time. This is especially the case with an ageing population. Most of the work by internists are performed at the healthcare facilities as internal medicine patients, most of the time is seriously ill or need complex investigations.
Therefore, by concentrating on comprehensive adult medicine, the function of the internist is to treat the individual as a whole, not just their internal organs. The patients can be of any age group; however, the general range specifies from late teenage years to senior citizens.
Internists do not perform surgeries, treat children or delivering babies.
The job of the internists is to prevent by diagnosing and treating conditions that impact adults. With knowledge of complex diseases, internists a trained to prevent the initial onslaught of these conditions by being able to distinguish and managing the risk factors, for example, rising blood pressure and cholesterol. Internists receive training and are experts at diagnosing and treating chronic ailments, particularly where an individual patient experiences multiple conditions at the same time.
Internal Medicine – Areas of Care
Conditions affecting individual organs or organs systems will require Internists to be trained in specific sub-specialities or areas of care.
Pulmonology: Lung specialists or Pulmonologists concentrate on treating conditions such as asthma and emphysema or chronic bronchitis, also referred to as COPD. Pulmonologists are also experts at treating sleep disorders, particularly those related to breathing with sleep apnoea being a primary focal point.
Endocrinology: Specialists who are expert at treating hormone and gland related conditions are known as Endocrinologists. Common disorders that fall under the purview of Endocrinology are conditions of the thyroid gland including over or under-active thyroid, diabetes and other hormone disorders.
Cardiology: Conditions relating to the heart and blood vessels are treated by a specialist referred to as a Cardiologist. The focus point of treatment here is to prevent heart attacks. In addition to that, treating patients who already have experienced heart attacks is also a key area for cardiologists. Patients diagnosed with CHF or Cohesive Heart Failure may also consult with a cardiologist. CHF is a condition where the heart is not able to adequately pump as strongly as required. As a result, there is more fluid retention in the patient’s legs and lungs which is a series of health concern demanding immediate medical attention.
Gastroenterology: Gastroenterologists are specialists in treating conditions such as oesophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, pancreas, and liver which form a part of the digestive system. Patients suffering from chronic or severe heartburn, indigestion, stomach pain, chronic diarrhoea or constipation and a condition called irritable bowel syndrome may also consult with a gastroenterologist.
Hepatology: Focussing particularly on the liver, Hepatologists treat chronic or severe liver disorders including Hepatitis A, B or C. If the patient needs a liver transplant due to liver failure, then a hepatologist the right expert to consult.
Haematology / Oncology: Patients with blood disorders and cancer are treated by Haematologists / Oncologists. Often, these two sub-specialities are combined when treating patients diagnosed with blood disorders like anaemia or cancers of the breast, lung, and colon. If treatment requires rounds of chemotherapy, the Haematologist / Oncologist will typically be the one to administer the same. Haematologist / Oncologist do not perform any surgical procedures on the patients to remove malignant tumours.
Nephrology: Kidney specialists or nephrologists treat those patients who have suffered partial kidney damage also known as renal insufficiency and kidney failure. In order to control sodium, potassium, and calcium which are basically electrolytes, along with regulating the water and waste products in the body, dialysis may be recommended to patients with kidney failure. Nephrologists are experts at managing dialysis procedures.
Rheumatology: Conditions called ‘Autoimmune Diseases’ are treated by Rheumatologists. When the body’s immune system fights itself and not the external virus or bacteria, this leads to the development of an autoimmune disease in the body. Rheumatoid arthritis and lupus are common examples of autoimmune conditions. Broad indications of autoimmune diseases are experiencing pain and swelling in the joint areas. Conditions related to joints excluding joint injuries or surgeries may also be treated by rheumatologists.
Allergy/Immunology: Any form of allergy testing in order to determine which substances or foods, for example, pollen, nuts, mould, that the patient is allergic to, is performed by an expert Allergist / Immunologist. Allergy shots are administered in order to desensitize the patient to specific substances, thus, reducing the severity of the allergens. Rare immune deficiency conditions where the body’s immune system is not functioning as is required may also be treated by allergists/immunologists.
Infectious Disease: Chronic and severe infections such as HIV / AIDS, bone infections and serious dermatological infections are treated by medical practitioners specialising in infectious diseases. While common infectious conditions that are short-lived may be looked after by a general physician, strep throat, sinus infection, etc., are more severe conditions that will require specialist intervention.
Geriatrics: Specialists who treat conditions affecting older adults are known as Geriatricians. While there is no defined age as to when an adult should start seeking medical advice from a geriatrician, typically those who are about 80 years and above form the majority of the geriatrician’s patient list. A geriatrician generally is trained in treating cognitive and mental conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, works towards maintaining their overall quality of health and life, coordinate the number of medications being consumed, check and prevent any possible drug interactions and limit any severe side-effects.
When to Consult an Internist?
Experiencing diabetes, hypertension or high cholesterol, or a common illness like the flu, mental health challenges such as depression or anxiety, or even aches and pains are some of the common medical concerns for which you may require the intervention of an Internist who is capable of acting as your point of contact. If your internist feels that a specialist should be consulted, then a referral will be made on your behalf, which will be subsequently followed with care coordination, ensuring that you have a complete understanding of your diagnosis and treatment plan.
About the Department
The Department of Internal Medicine at Fortis Hospitals in Chennai is home to the establishment’s primary care activities that incorporate both in-patient and outpatient services in combination with promoting education and awareness, concentrating on disease prevention. This complements subsidiary activities that are practised by our specialists in allied medical divisions at Fortis, Chennai.Screening, diagnostic and treatment services for adults is provided by the Department of Internal Medicine at Fortis, Chennai. Our expert internists also offer consultative services in referring patients to specialists, if the diagnosis and treatment call for it. A wide spectrum of services has been designed towards patient care ranging from preventive medicine to screenings and health promotions to critical care, conveniently located within our premises.
Committed to providing excellence, the Department of Internal Medicine offers a multidisciplinary, comprehensive, and innovative patient care across all of the medical specialities.