Specialist in Hepatology
Rachel Thomas, AGACNP-BC, is a Chattanooga native, and she attended Chattanooga State for nursing school receiving her RN and BSN. She then went on to receive a Master of Nursing at Southern Adventist University. She’s always had interest in medicine and helping people, but her passion for the field was ignited through the experience of going back and forth to hospitals and doctors appointments with her grandmother when she had health issues.
“Medicine is an ever-changing field,” she said. “And there is always something challenging to learn and grow from.”
As a nurse, her primary background was in intensive care, and since she has been a practicing Nurse Practitioner, her focuses have been on Nephrology and Cardiothoracic surgery. She worked as an ICU nurse for 11 years and has been serving patients as an NP for 6 years now.
By day Rachel loves working with patients, and by night or in her off time, she enjoys spending time with her daughter, her husband, and their dog enjoying the outdoors.
7425 Ziegler Rd., Ste. 143
Chattanooga, TN 37421
No patients fit into any specific box, so I practice medicine with a holistic approach. I work with patients to get to know their backgrounds and the challenges they face, creating an individualized plan specific to their needs while helping them achieve their best health.
MSN | Southern Adventist University, Collegedale, TN
A hepatologist is a specialist in the branch of medicine called Hepatology, which includes the study of body parts such as the liver, the biliary tree, the gallbladder and the pancreas. A hepatologist manages disorders in these areas. Hepatology was traditionally a subspecialty of gastroenterology, but recent advances in the understanding of this subspecialty have made it a field of its own.
Hepatologists deal most frequently with viral hepatitis and diseases related to alcohol. Hepatitis impacts millions of people worldwide and has been associated with a number of poor outcomes such as liver cancer and liver transplantation. Particularly, hepatitis B and hepatitis C frequently cause liver cancers. Alcohol consumption has been associated with cirrhosis and other complications.
A general practitioner may refer a patient to a hepatologist for a variety of reasons including drug overdose, gastrointestinal bleeding from portal hypertension, jaundice, ascites, enzyme defects or blood tests that indicate liver disease. Evidence of diseases in the biliary tree, fever indicating tropical diseases such as hydatid cyst, kala-azar or schistosomiasis may also cause a general practitioner to refer a patient to a hepatologist. These specialists also may treat hemochromatosis or pancreatitis or conduct follow-up among patients who have received a liver transplantation.
Some of the procedures performed by hepatologists include endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP), transhepatic pancreato-cholangiography (TPC) or transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic shunt (TIPSS).
Hepatologists can treat adult or pediatric patients.
To become a hepatologist, an individual must complete undergraduate study, receive a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree, and then complete a 3-year residency in gastroenterology followed by a fellowship of 2 or 3 years in that field. These candidates then should receive certification in gastroenterology by the American Board of Internal Medicine.
Once these gastroenterologists are certified, they should devote the majority of their time to the liver and its associated complications.
Liver disorder is defined as any condition that damages the liver and prevents it from functioning well.
Most common types of liver disorders
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease: the accumulation of liver fat in people who drink little or no alcohol.
Hepatitis C: an infection caused by a virus that attacks the liver and leads to inflammation.
Hepatitis B: a serious liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus that’s easily preventable by a vaccine.
Cirrhosis of the liver: chronic liver damage from a variety of causes leading to scarring and liver failure.
Alcoholic hepatitis: liver inflammation caused by drinking too much alcohol.
Hepatitis A: a highly contagious liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus.
Hemochromatosis: an inherited condition that causes excessive absorption of iron leading to high blood iron levels and iron deposits in multiple joints.
There are a variety of disorders of the pancreas including acute pancreatitis, chronic pancreatitis, hereditary pancreatitis, and pancreatic cancer.
The evaluation of pancreatic diseases can be difficult due to the inaccessibility of the pancreas. There are multiple methods to evaluate the pancreas. Initial tests of the pancreas include a physical examination, which is difficult since the pancreas is deep in the abdomen near the spine. Blood tests are often helpful in determining whether the pancreas is involved in a specific symptom but may be misleading. The best radiographic tests to evaluate the structure of the pancreas include CAT (computed tomography) scan, endoscopic ultrasound, and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). Tests to evaluate the pancreatic ducts include ERCP (endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography) and MRCP(magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography). There are also instances in which surgical exploration is the only way to confirm the diagnosis of pancreatic disease.
Acute Pancreatitis: Acute pancreatitis is a sudden attack causing inflammation of the pancreas and is usually associated with severe upper abdominal pain. The pain may be severe and last several days. Other symptoms of acute pancreatitis include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, bloating, and fever. In the United States, the most common cause of acute pancreatitis is gallstones. Other causes include chronic alcohol consumption, hereditary conditions, trauma, medications, infections, electrolyte abnormalities, high lipid levels, hormonal abnormalities, or other unknown causes. The treatment is usually supportive with medications showing no benefit. Most patients with acute pancreatitis recover completely.
Chronic Pancreatitis: Chronic pancreatitis is the progressive disorder associated with the destruction of the pancreas. The disease is more common in men and usually develops in persons between 30 and 40 years of age. Initially, chronic pancreatitis may be confused with acute pancreatitis because the symptoms are similar. The most common symptoms are upper abdominal pain and diarrhea. As the disease becomes more chronic, patients can develop malnutrition and weight loss. If the pancreas becomes destroyed in the latter stages of the disease, patients may develop diabetes mellitus.
The most common cause of chronic pancreatitis in the United States is chronic alcohol consumption. Additional causes include cystic fibrosis and other hereditary disorders ofthe pancreas. For a significant percentage of patients there is no known cause. More research is needed to determine other causes of the disease.
The treatment for chronic pancreatitis depends on the symptoms. Most therapies center on pain management and nutritional support. Oral pancreatic enzyme supplements are used to aid in the digestion of food. Patients who develop diabetes require insulin to control blood sugar. The avoidance of alcohol is central to therapy.
Hereditary Pancreatitis: In some cases, pancreatitis is related to inherited abnormalities of the pancreas or intestine. Acute recurrent attacks of pancreatitis early in life (under age 30) can often progress to chronic pancreatitis. The most common inherited disorder that leads to chronic pancreatitis is cystic fibrosis. Recent research demonstrates genetic testing can be a valuable tool in identifying patients predisposed to hereditary pancreatitis.
As in chronic pancreatitis, hereditary pancreatitis is a progressive disease with a high risk of permanent problems. Patients with these disorders may have chronic pain, diarrhea, malnutrition, or diabetes. Treatment focuses on pain control and pancreatic enzyme replacement.
NATIONAL PANCREAS FOUNDATION