Endoscopy is a procedure used to visually examine your upper digestive system with a tiny camera on the end of a long flexible tube. Endoscopy is used to diagnose and treat conditions that affect the upper part of the digestive system, including the esophagus, stomach and beginning of the small intestine (duodenum). A doctor who specializes in diseases of the digestive system (gastroenterologist) uses endoscopy to diagnose and treat conditions that affect the esophagus, stomach and beginning of the small intestine (duodenum).
Doctors often refer to endoscopy as esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD) or upper endoscopy. Endoscopy may be done in your doctor’s office, an outpatient surgery center or a hospital.
Your doctor may recommend an endoscopy procedure to:
- Investigate causes of digestive signs and symptoms. Endoscopy may help your doctor determine what’s causing signs and symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, difficulty swallowing and gastrointestinal bleeding.
- Diagnose digestive diseases and conditions. Your doctor may use endoscopy to collect tissue (biopsy) samples to test for diseases and conditions, such as anemia, bleeding, inflammation, diarrhea or cancers of the digestive system.
- Treat certain digestive system problems. Using special tools during endoscopy allows your doctor to treat certain problems in your digestive system, such as bleeding from the esophagus or stomach, difficulty swallowing caused by a narrow esophagus, or removing polyps. Endoscopy can also be used to remove foreign objects lodged in your upper digestive tract.
- Follow-up after treatment for digestive diseases and conditions. Your doctor may use endoscopy after treatment for a digestive system problem to ensure treatment was successful. For instance, an endoscopy may reveal whether stomach ulcers have healed following treatment.
Endoscopy is sometimes combined with other procedures, such as ultrasound. An ultrasound probe may be attached to the endoscope to create specialized images of the wall of your esophagus or stomach. An endoscopic ultrasound may also help your doctor create images of hard-to-reach organs, such as your pancreas.
Endoscopy is a safe procedure. However it carries a very small risk of complications, including:
- Bleeding. Your risk of bleeding complications after endoscopy is increased if the procedure involves removing a piece of tissue for testing (biopsy). In rare cases, such bleeding may require a blood transfusion.
- Infection. An infection in your digestive tract may require antibiotics.
- Tearing of the gastrointestinal tract. A tear in your esophagus or another part of your upper digestive tract may require hospitalization and sometimes surgery to repair it.
You can reduce your risk of complications by carefully following your doctor’s instructions for preparing for endoscopy, such as fasting and stopping certain medications.
Signs and symptoms that could indicate a complication
Signs and symptoms to watch for after your endoscopy include:
- A temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) or higher
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Black or very dark colored stool
- Difficulty swallowing
- Severe or persistent abdominal pain that isn’t relieved by passing gas
- Vomiting blood
Call your doctor immediately or go to an emergency room if you experience any of these signs or symptoms.
Your doctor will give you specific instructions to prepare for your endoscopy. In some cases your doctor may ask that you:
- Fast before the endoscopy. You may be asked to stop drinking and eating six to eight hours before your endoscopy. This is to ensure your stomach is empty for the procedure.
- Stop taking certain medications. You may be asked to stop taking certain blood-thinning medications in the days before your endoscopy. Blood-thinners may increase your risk of bleeding if certain procedures are performed during endoscopy. If you have diabetes, your doctor will give you specific instructions regarding your insulin or oral medications.
Tell your doctor about all the medications and supplements you’re taking before your endoscopy.
Plan ahead for your recovery
Most people undergoing endoscopy will receive a sedative to make them relaxed and more comfortable during the procedure. If you’ll be sedated during the procedure, plan ahead for your recovery. For instance:
- Find someone to drive you home. You’ll be asked to not drive for the rest of the day.
- Make arrangements to take the day off from work. You won’t be able to go back to work immediately after endoscopy. If your shift doesn’t start until later in the day or in the evening, ask your doctor whether it’s safe for you to go to work.
- Plan to have someone with you for the rest of the day. Have a responsible adult stay with you for the rest of the day or check on you from time to time. Don’t plan to make any important financial or business decisions for 24 hours after your endoscopy procedure.
You may feel mentally alert after receiving a sedative, but your memory, reaction times and judgment may be impaired. Planning ahead for this will help keep you safe while the sedative wears off.
When you arrive for your endoscopy, you’ll be asked to change out of your clothes and into a gown. You’ll be taken to an exam room and asked to lie down on a table on your left side.
Monitors often will be attached to your body to allow your health care team to monitor your breathing, blood pressure and heart rate during the procedure. You may receive a sedative medication through a vein in your arm. This medication helps you relax during the endoscopy.
Your doctor may spray an anesthetic in your mouth to numb your throat in preparation for insertion of the long, flexible tube (endoscope) that will be used to see your digestive tract. You may be asked to wear a plastic mouth guard to protect your teeth and the endoscope. Then the endoscope is inserted in your mouth. Your doctor may ask you to swallow as the scope passes down your throat. You may feel some pressure in your throat, but you won’t feel pain.
You can’t talk after the endoscope passes down your throat, though you can make noises.
Your doctor then passes the endoscope down your esophagus toward your stomach. A tiny camera on the end of the endoscope transmits images to a video monitor in the exam room. Your doctor watches this monitor to look for abnormalities in your upper digestive tract. If abnormalities are found in your digestive tract, your doctor may record images for later use.
To help the endoscope move through your upper digestive tract, gentle air pressure may be fed into your esophagus. This inflates your digestive tract so the endoscope can move freely and the folds of your digestive tract are more easily examined. But the air can also create a feeling of pressure or fullness.
If there’s a need to collect a tissue sample or remove a polyp, your doctor will pass special surgical tools through the endoscope. Your doctor watches the video monitor to guide the tools.
When your doctor has finished, the endoscope is slowly retracted through your esophagus and back out through your mouth. Endoscopy typically takes five to 20 minutes, depending on your situation.
You’ll be taken to a recovery area to sit or lie quietly after your endoscopy. You may stay for 30 minutes to two hours, depending on your situation. This allows your health care team to monitor you as the sedative begins to wear off.
Once you’re at home, you may experience some mildly uncomfortable signs and symptoms after endoscopy, such as:
- Bloating and gas that can last for the next day or so
- Bloody saliva
- Sore throat
These signs and symptoms will improve with time. If you’re concerned or quite uncomfortable, call your doctor.
Take it easy for the rest of the day after your endoscopy. You may feel alert, but your reaction times and judgment are delayed after receiving a sedative.
When you receive the results of your endoscopy will depend on your situation. If, for instance, your doctor performed the endoscopy to look for an ulcer, you may learn the findings right away after your procedure. If your doctor performed an endoscopy to collect a tissue sample (biopsy), it may be several days until results from laboratory testing are available.