An endoscopy is a nonsurgical procedure that involves inserting a long, thin tube directly into the body, commonly through the mouth or anus, to make observations on an organ or tissue in detail. The flexible tube has a camera and light attached to it so the doctor can visually examine your digestive tract on the TV monitor.
Through the endoscopy procedure, the doctor can evaluate and diagnose certain the cause of symptoms and therefore, recommend the appropriate treatment. It can also be used to carry out treatment directly and avoid the need for further surgery.
Different types of endoscopy
Gastroenterology specialists are specialized in endoscopy and they are the ones who will perform it. It can be a useful procedure to help in a broad array of medical conditions related to all parts of the digestive tract. There are generally 2 groups of digestive endoscopies.
General endoscopy helps to evaluate most digestive symptoms and recommend treatment, including procedures like:
- Gastroscopy: Esophagus, stomach and small intestine (duodenum)
- Colonoscopy: Large intestine and colon
Advanced endoscopy includes more complicated endoscopy types with higher risks of complications but often help patients avoid a more invasive surgery, namely:
- ERCP (Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangio-Pancreatography): Bile ducts and pancreatic ducts
- Endoscopic ultrasound (EUS): The gastrointestinal (GI) tract and neighbouring organs
When will you need an endoscopy
There are mainly three reasons when endoscopy will be recommended to you.
1. Investigate symptoms and signs
Your doctor can take a look and investigate digestive signs and symptoms like persistent abdominal pain, difficulty in swallowing (dysphagia), change of bowel habits, blood in stools and gastrointestinal bleeding.
A biopsy can be carried out using endoscopy to collect tissue samples and test for conditions and diseases such as ulcers, digestive tract bleeding, polyps or growths in the colon to prevent the development of colon cancer.
It may also be used to treat problems in the digestive tract. Special tools and devices can be passed through the endoscope to remove bile stones, for example. If polyps are found in the colon, they can also be removed through endoscopy with standard polypectomy techniques. for the prevention of colon cancer development.
How to prepare for the procedure
Your doctor will share specific instructions in preparation for the endoscopy. Typically, you will need to fast for about 8 to 12 hours before the endoscopy so your stomach will be empty for the effectiveness of the procedure. Laxatives may also be taken on the previous night to clear your system for procedures investigating the gut. Remember to mention the supplements and medications you are currently taking so your doctor will advise you accordingly to stop taking or continue as per normal.
During the procedure
The procedure is usually an hour-long duration and won’t require an overnight hospital stay. A local anaesthetic is applied to numb a specific area of your body, such as the back of your throat. The endoscope will be inserted into your body openings, which depends on the examined area, i.e. throat, anus, or urethra. For insertion through the mouth, you will be asked to wear a mouth guard to protect the lips and teeth, and hold your mouth open.
You may feel some pressure during the insertion but generally, you shouldn’t feel pain. Images will be transmitted to the monitor for your doctor to view and look for abnormalities. Gentle air pressure may be added into your esophagus to allow the endoscope to move freely and examine your digestive tract easily.
A sedative will also be given to patients to help them to relax and be more comfortable, and have a good experience when going through the endoscopic examination. During the procedure, patients will not feel or remember the process but your doctor will ensure it is performed safely with adequate monitoring.
Due to the sedative, your judgement, reaction times, and memory may be impaired. Thus, arrange for someone to drive you home afterwards and plan for an additional 24 hours for the sedative effects to wear off before resuming work or other activities.
The risks and possible side effects
After endoscopy, you may experience mildly uncomfortable symptoms such as sore throat, cramping, bloating and gas. It is a relatively safe procedure with a low risk of serious complications. However, if you experience symptoms like shortness of breath, chest pain, vomiting blood, severe and persistent abdominal pain, it should be reported to a doctor.
Possible complications can include a minor infection in the area of investigation, persistent pain experienced in the endoscopy area, perforation (tearing) of an organ or internal bleeding.