Dr. Eric Avezzano, CEO and Managing Partner of Bergen Medical Associates, discusses Gastroenterology breakthroughs mean better outcomes for NJ patients
More effective treatments, coupled with widespread screening, are improving outcomes for many patients suffering from gastrointestinal disorders.
“Gastroenterology, or GI, has seen some substantial developments in the last five or so years,” said Dr. Eric Avezzano, a Board-Certified Gastroenterologist and president of Bergen Medical Associates. “In the field of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) we have more treatment choices that prevent flare-ups, which is instrumental in keeping patients stable, avoiding surgery and cutting down on treatment-related side effects.”
Biologic treatments, which use substances made from living organisms to treat disease, is one of the most effective advances in treating these conditions which includes illnesses such as Crohn’s disease and Colitis.
“In past years, the number of treatments were limited and came with severe side effects,” explained Dr. Avezzano, who is also Board-Certified in Internal Medicine. “Many of the oral treatments had to be taken several times a day. Some, like steroids, were exceedingly difficult to tolerate. Over the years, we have largely replaced those with biologic treatments and that has been a tremendous advance for Colitis and Crohn’s patients.
These treatments which block proteins that create inflammation, are generally given through IV infusions every 6-8 weeks or subcutaneously. They can be administered by a visiting nurse, at a care center or even patient self-administered.
Another tremendous advance in the treatment of IBD is a specially engineered steroid that produces fewer side effects than traditional steroids.
“It is a safer medication that does a good job of producing patient symptom stability,” Dr. Avezzano said.
Advances in antiviral treatments have led to improvements in outcomes for patients with hepatitis C.
“Hepatitis C is the most common form of chronic hepatitis from viral transmission, “Dr. Avezzano explained. “Traditionally, it has been hard to eradicate. Over the last few years, many antiviral agents have been developed that do a great job of eradicating hepatitis C and curing the patient, thereby eliminating the progression to cirrhosis and liver failure.”
Earlier screening for colon cancer also holds promise to further prevent this deadly disease. While previous guidelines called for screenings to begin at age 50, medical scientists detected a trend toward younger people contracting colon cancer, the second leading cause of cancer related deaths. In 2018, the American Cancer Association updated its guidelines to recommend screens begin at age 45.
“Colonoscopy is the most impactful thing we do to prevent colon cancer,” Dr. Avezzano said. “Now, we are catching a greater percentage of people at an early stage.”
And there are more developments to come.
“One of the most exciting things happening in GI is the attention being paid to gut biome, “Dr. Avezzano said, explaining that the GI tract has a natural population of bacteria that plays a key role in digestion.
Under the right circumstances, these bacteria can assist digestion. Under the wrong circumstances, they can impede digestion possibly leading to GI disorders. Doctors are increasingly interested in hydrogen breath testing to determine what foods a patient is having trouble digesting, Dr. Avezzano explained.
“This is a shift toward understanding how the GI tract functions and how it reacts in relation to what we put in our bodies,” he added. “This will continue to be studied.”
With offices in Emerson, Paramus, Ridgewood, Northvale and Montvale, Bergen Medical Associates offers specialized care in 12 divisions, including gastroenterology as well as primary care. The practice treats patients of all ages, with the exception of young children, and is founded on the principle of providing the highest quality care, tailored for each patient.
“We’ve always valued giving patients individualized and personalized care,” Dr. Avezzano said. “We combine a state-of-the-art approach to medicine with a small center environment.”
With extended evening and Saturday hours, around-the-clock coverage and telehealth, the practice also strives to treat patients at their convenience.
“We develop a relationship with our patients that is comprehensive,” Dr. Avezzano said. “We create coverage systems so our patients can always access us. We provide individual suites, so patients are not ushered through the hallway half-clad. We want our patients to feel comfortable and secure in our office environment.”
Like most health care providers, Bergen Medical Associates was presented with pandemic related challenges. But the practice’s experienced doctors and administrators quickly met those challenges, with mask and distancing protocols and an increased use of telemedicine.
“We were able to quickly ramp up and provide services to patients by video calls” Dr. Avezzano said. “In order to perform colonoscopy and other procedures, we had to create a safe environment through testing patients just prior to a procedure, more and deeper cleaning and spacing patients out. We were very successful in adapting to the challenges presented by the pandemic.