An endoscopy is a nonsurgical procedure to examine and repair organs, most often used for issues with your digestive tract. The procedure uses an endoscope — a flexible tube with a camera and light attached — to get a closer look at problems that may be occurring within your body. Images appear on a monitor, allowing the surgeon to see what the endoscope sees without making a large incision.
An endoscopy may be performed to evaluate:
- Stomach pain
- Ulcers, gastritis, or difficulty swallowing
- Digestive tract bleeding
- Changes in bowel
- Polyps or growths in the colon
It may also be used to take biopsies, place stents, or treat a digestive problem by using specialized devices with the endoscope.
Types of endoscopies are categorized based on the area of the body that they investigate:
- EGD (esophagogastroduodenoscopy): a test involving the use of an endoscope down your throat and along the length of your esophagus. This would be categorized as Upper GI, which also includes the mouth, stomach, and small intestine. A Lower GI is an examination of your colon (colonoscopy), large intestine or rectum.
- ERCP (endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatogram): used to examine the pancreatic and bile ducts, as well as the gallbladder.
- EUS (endoscopic ultrasound): combines upper endoscopy and ultrasound to examine digestive tract and chest, nearby organs and lymph nodes.
An endoscopy is overall very safe, with a much lower risk of bleeding and infection than with open surgery. However, in rare cases, there are a few potential complications varying by the type of procedure. These may include:
- Chest pain
- Perforation (tear) in organ
- Fever, nausea
- Persistent pain in the area of endoscopy
- Redness and inflammation around incision site
To determine the cause of your symptoms, and if an endoscopy is necessary, you will be given a physical examination and may be required to have some blood tests taken. If a procedure is planned, you will need to stop taking certain medications that can affect bleeding.
Examining the upper digestive tract will require you to fast for 6-12 hours prior to the procedure. For a lower examination, the colon must be cleared of stool. Therefore, a laxative or enema will be given on the day or night before the procedure.
For most examinations a sedative is used. General anesthesia is given only in special circumstances, such as with young children, or for complex problems. Regardless, it is a good idea to arrange for a ride home after the procedure in case of an adverse reaction.
What Happens in Surgery?
During an upper endoscopy, an endoscope is passed through the mouth and throat and into the esophagus, providing a view of the esophagus, stomach, and upper part of the small intestine.
With a lower examination, the endoscope is passed into the large intestine (colon) through the rectum.
In other types of endoscopies, the the endoscope is passed through a small incision.
If your procedure involved an incision, this will be closed with stitches and bandaged. Most endoscopies are outpatient procedures, meaning you will be able to go home the same day. You will be given post-care instructions to follow once you are home.
With some procedures, such as a colonoscopy, you may experience some discomfort and need time to recover before returning to normal daily activities.
If a biopsy was taken during your endoscopy, it will typically take a few days before you are contacted with results, at which point next steps will be discussed.