Endoscopy is a nonsurgical procedure usually used to examine a person’s digestive tract. The process involves the insertion of a long, thin tube directly into the body to observe an internal organ or tissue in detail. It can also be used to carry out other tasks including imaging and minor surgery. The main reasons for endoscopy are investigation, confirmation, and treatment. An endoscope is the instrument used to perform endoscopy and the first endoscope was designed in 1806.
Using an endoscope, a flexible tube with a light and camera attached to it, your doctor can view pictures of your digestive tract on a color TV monitor. During an upper endoscopy, an endoscope is easily passed through the mouth and throat and into the esophagus, allowing the doctor to view the esophagus, stomach, and upper part of the small intestine. Similarly, endoscopes can be passed into the large intestine (colon) through the rectum to examine this area of the intestine. This procedure is called sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy depending on how far up the colon is examined.
Why Do I Need an Endoscopy?
Doctors will often recommend endoscopy to evaluate:
- Stomach pain.
- Ulcers, gastritis, or difficulty swallowing.
- Digestive tract bleeding.
- Changes in bowel habits (chronic constipation or diarrhea).
- Polyps or growths in the colon.
In addition, your doctor may use an endoscope to take a biopsy (removal of tissue) to look for the presence of disease. Endoscopy may also be used to treat a digestive tract problem. For example, the endoscope might not only detect active bleeding from an ulcer, but devices can be passed through the endoscope that can stop the bleeding. In the colon, polyps can be removed through the scope to prevent the development of colon cancer.
Common Types of Endoscopy You Can Do
Depending on the part of your body which your doctor wants to investigate or apply a treatment, you may be asked to do any of the following types of endoscopy:
- Bronchoscopy – used to examine the airways if you have a persistent cough or you’re coughing up blood.
- Rhinoscopy – used to examine the airways through the nose.
- Hysteroscopy – used to examine the inside of the womb (uterus) if there are problems such as unusual vaginal bleeding or repeated miscarriages.
- Cystoscopy – used to examine the inside of the bladder if there are problems such as urinary incontinence or blood in your urine.
- Endoscopic ultrasound – used to create images of internal organs, such as the pancreas, and take tissue samples.
- Esophagogastroduodenoscopy – used to examine the upper gastrointestinal tract including esophagus, stomach, and duodenum.
- Enteroscopy – used to examine the small intestine.
- Colonoscopy/sigmoidoscopy – used to examine the colon or large intestine.
- Rectoscopy – used to examine the rectum and bile duct.
- Anoscopy – used to examine the anus.
- Otoscopy – used to examine the ear.
- Gynoscopy – used to examine the female genital tract. It can be colposcopy (cervix), hysteroscopy (uterus) or falloposcopy (fallopian tubes).
- Athroscopy – used to examine the interior of a joint.
- Thoracoscopy/mediastinocopy – used to examine the organs of the chest.
- Laparoscopy – used in making small incisions to access the abdominal or pelvic cavity during surgery.
How to Prepare for an Endoscopy
Endoscopies are quick and relatively safe procedures. Advice will be provided by your doctor on how to prepare for an endoscopy, because different procedures will have different requirements. The procedure does not require an overnight stay in the hospital and usually only takes around 1 hour to complete.
An endoscopy is typically performed while the patient is conscious, although sometimes the patient will receive local anesthetic (commonly an anesthetic spray to the back of the throat); often, the patient is sedated. For many types of endoscopy, the individual needs to fast for around 12 hours, although this varies based on the type. If the procedure involves investigating your digestive system, laxatives may be given to you to take the night before in other to clear the system.
Modern endoscopes are sometimes fitted with sensitive lights that use narrow band imaging. This type of imaging uses specific blue and green wavelengths that allow the doctor to spot precancerous conditions more easily. Your doctor will usually carry out an examination before the endoscopy. It is however, important to mention all current medications (including supplements) and any previous procedures you have had.
Any Risks and Side Effects?
Some possible risks and side effects you may encounter from an endoscopy include:
- Over-sedation, although sedation is not always necessary.
- Feeling bloated for a short time after the procedure.
- Mild cramping.
- A numb throat for a few hours due to the use of local anesthetic.
- Infection of the area of investigation. This most commonly occurs when additional procedures are carried out at the same time. The infections are normally minor and treatable with a course of antibiotics.
- Persistent pain in the area of the endoscopy.
- American Society of Gastrointestinal Endoscopy – Capsule endoscopy.
- Cohen, J. (2016, December 1). Patient education: Upper endoscopy (beyond the basics).
- UpToDate – Upper endoscopy
- Cancer Research UK – Endoscopy
- NHS – Endoscopy