Endoscopy & Gastroscopy

What is an endoscopy?

An endoscopy is a procedure which involves using an instrument known as an endoscope to look within the body. An endoscope is a long, thin flexible tube that is fitted with a light and a camera. It enables doctors to see detailed images of the inside of the body on a monitor.

Endoscopies can be used to diagnose a range of health conditions and are performed on a regular basis. There are different types of endoscopy, usually named according to the area of the body which they are used to examine. These include a gastroscopy, a cystoscopy (to look inside the bladder) and a laparoscopy (to peer within the abdomen and pelvis).

What is Gastroscopy?

A gastroscopy also known as an upper endoscop yallows doctors to see the stomach, oesophagus and duodenum (this is an element of the small intestine) in detail. There are alternatives to endoscopies, which include MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and CT (computerised tomography) scans, ultrasound scans and a test known as barium swallow meal.

Why might I need an endoscopy?

Endoscopies can be used to diagnose several health conditions, including:

  • Urinary tract infections (known as UTIs).
  • Stomach ulcers.
  • Conditions associated with breathing problems.
  • Internal bleeding.
  • Chronic (long-term) diarrhoea.
  • Incontinence.

A gastroscopy is often ordered when a patient displays symptoms including:

  • Heartburn.
  • Vomiting blood.
  • Vomiting on a regular basis.
  • Chronic abdominal pain.
  • Anaemia.
  • Unexplained weight loss.
  • Regular bouts of indigestion.
  • Early symptoms of cancer.

A gastroscopy is also used in the diagnosis of digestive conditions, such as:

  • Coeliac disease.
  • Ulcers.
  • Barrett’s oesophagus.

Preparing for a gastroscopy

Before you have a gastroscopy your doctor will explain what the procedure involves and how you should prepare for the test. You should tell your doctor if you are taking any medication, especially anti-coagulant medication, such as heparin or warfarin, which is used to prevent the blood from clotting. In most cases a gastroscopy is performed as a day case and you will be able to go home shortly after the test.

You will be given advice about preparing for the procedure well in advance. Your stomach should be empty during the test to allow doctors to see your stomach and duodenum clearly, so you will be advised to avoid eating for a period of time before the test (this is usually between 6 and 8 hours). You may also be given a laxative to clear any waste from your bowel. If you are diabetic you will be given special instructions to ensure that your blood sugar levels are under control.

You may be given a local anaesthetic or sedative to prevent any pain during the test.

The endoscopy procedure

During the process you will be awake, but you will not experience pain. The endoscope will be passed either through the throat, anus or urethra, depending on the area of the body being examined. If you are having your digestive system examined, it is likely that the endoscope will be passed down the throat and guided along the oesophagus and into the stomach. Images of the organs will be sent from the endoscope to a monitor and a biopsy (a small sample of tissue) may be taken.

After an endoscopy

An endoscopy is not painful, but it may cause some discomfort and you will probably feel the need to rest for a while after the test. If you have had local anaesthetic you should wait until the effects have worn off before you go home. It is also a good idea to arrange for somebody to give you a lift home, as it is not advisable to drive after an endoscopy. The results of the test will be sent to your doctor, which can take up to 14 days, though it may be quicker.

Are endoscopies safe?

Endoscopies are performed on a regular basis and considered to be a safe procedure. Complications are rare but there is a risk, as with all medical procedures. Possible complications of an endoscopy include:

  • Infection in the area being examined.
  • Tearing or damage to an internal organ.
  • Allergic reaction to the anaesthetic.
  • Persistent bleeding.

Fewer than 1 in 100 people experience complications following an endoscopy. You should see your GP if you have had an endoscopy recently and are experiencing symptoms affecting the area in which the endoscope entered the body, such as:

  • Pain.
  • Inflammation.
  • Redness.
  • Abnormal discharge.

These symptoms may indicate an infection, which can usually be treated quickly and effectively with a course of antibiotics.

If you notice any of the following symptoms you should contact your GP or go to the nearest Accident and Emergency department:

  • Vomiting blood.
  • Black stools.
  • Fever (a high temperature).
  • Pain in the chest.
  • Breathing difficulties.
  • Severe abdominal pain, which may last for a long time.
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