What is an endoscopy?
An upper gastrointestinal (GI) endoscopy, often called a gastroscopy, is a procedure to look inside the oesophagus (food pipe), stomach and upper intestine using a flexible telescope. It is performed to allow the specialist to see inside the upper digestive system, and can help diagnose problems such as ulcers, cancers and other problems.
A lower GI endoscopy (colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy) is a procedure used to look inside the back passage and lower bowel, and can help diagnose problems such as diverticulitis, haemorrhoids, and cancers.
How is a gastroscopy performed?
You may be given a sedative before the procedure to help you relax. A local anaesthetic spray may be used to numb the back of the throat; this may taste quite unpleasant. You will then be asked to lie down, and given a plastic mouthpiece to place in your mouth.
The telescope is then passed through the mouth and into the stomach, where biopsies and photographs can be taken. Your stomach may feel bloated as air is blown in to improve the view.
The procedure takes about 10 minutes to perform and you can usually go home soon after. You can usually return to normal activities the next day, but check first with your specialist.
How is a lower GI endoscopy performed?
You may be given a laxative before the procedure to help clear the bowels. A sedative may then be used to help you relax. You will be asked to lie on your side whilst a thin telescope is passed up the back passage and may feel bloated as air is used to inflate the bowel and improve the view.
The procedure takes about 10-20 minutes to perform and you can usually go home soon after. You can usually return to normal activities the next day, but check first with your specialist.
What are the risks of having an endoscopy?
This is a very common procedure and most people have no problems whatsoever. Complications can occur, though, which include:
Hole in the intestine - this is rare, but the risks of this are greater if a tightened area (stricture) is stretched at the time of endoscopy. Surgery may be needed if this happens.
Breathing problems - this may occur as a result of inhaling saliva during a gastroscopy or reacting to the sedative. The team will be monitoring you for this, and will be ready to use oxygen and suction if needed.
Abandoned procedure - this may happen due to technical difficulty, blockages or patient discomfort. A repeat endoscopy may be planned for a later date, or alternative tests arranged.
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You may also be interested to read our articles on Crohn's disease, diverticulitis, ulcerative colitis or bowel cancer
Read an account of a patient's Real Experience of gastroscopy or colonoscopy
Any procedure involving skin incision can also result in unfavourable scarring, wound infection, or bleeding. This list of risks is not exhaustive, and you should discuss possible complications with your specialist. Whilst these risks will seem very worrysome, and indeed can be serious, it should also be borne in mind that many people have no postoperative problems whatsoever.
The information provided is as a guide only and you should discuss matters fully with your specialist before deciding if this is the right procedure for you. Please also read our disclaimer