Endoscopy is a medical diagnostic exam that allows doctors to see inside of a body cavity or vital organ, often the small intestine, which is part of the digestive system. The instrument used to perform the endoscopy is called an endoscope. This long, thin, and flexible tube with a tiny camera is inserted into the body from the mouth, the urethra (the tube your urine flows through), or the anus. The endoscope may also be inserted through a tiny incision in the skin.
During an endoscopy, the doctor can view, take photos or images, and/or take a sample of tissue in the area being examined. Polyps or small tumors may also be surgically removed from the digestive tract via the endoscope. Patients may be given anesthesia before endoscopy, if necessary.
What Types of Endoscopy Procedures are There?
Common body areas examined with endoscopy procedures include:
- Gastrointestinal (GI) tract: Starting at the top, this consists of the esophagus (throat or windpipe), stomach, and duodenum (area where the upper GI or small intestine attaches to the stomach). This type of endoscopy is called an EGD (esophagogastroduodenoscopy). The lower GI is called the large intestine or colon, and procedures done there are called enteroscopy, colonoscopy, and sigmoidoscopy. Below the colon, the bile duct, rectum, and anus may be examined–in procedures called rectoscopy and anoscopy.
- Chest: A small incision is required for procedures in this area. Thoracoscopy examines the lung(s) and space around them, while mediastinoscopy looks into the sternum (between the lungs in the middle of your chest). The doctor may also examine the lymph nodes in that area, to check for cancer. Lymph node(s) may be removed or a sample taken for further examination.
- Abdomen and/or pelvis: This endoscopic exam is called laparoscopy, and a small incision is required to insert the endoscope’s tube.
- Female reproductive tract: Endoscopy in this area can look at the cervix (colposcopy), fallopian tubes (falloposcopy), and/or the uterus (hysteroscopy).
- Urinary tract: Cystoscopy.
- Joint, such as the knee: This is called arthroscopy, with a small incision required.
- Respiratory or nasal tract: Endoscopy of the nose is called rhinoscopy) and if the procedure is done on the lower respiratory tract, it is called bronchoscopy.
- Ears: Otoscopy.
Is it Painful to Do an Endoscopy?
Patients usually report discomfort from their endoscopy, rather than pain. You may feel like you have a sore throat after an EGD examining the throat and duodenum just below, for example.
The medical team may give you a local anesthetic, numbing the part of your body that is necessary. You might be given a throat spray to numb your throat, for example. To calm nervousness or anxiety, you may be given a sedative, which may also prevent you from remembering the procedure, almost as if you slept through it.
What Diseases can be Detected by an Endoscopy?
In the upper GI endoscopy (called EGD or esophagogastroduodenoscopy), for example, doctors may find signs of and/or treat:
- Cancer or precancerous lesions. The doctor may take a sample, called a biopsy, through the endoscope’s tube to confirm diagnosis or to remove a polyp (growth).
- GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), which is chronic (repeated) acid reflux or heartburn.
- Ulcers of the stomach lining. If bleeding, the doctor may treat the ulcers through the endoscopic tube.
- Celiac disease, a serious allergy to gluten, which requires biopsy for a certain diagnosis.
- Narrowed or partially blocked esophagus (throat). The doctor may remove the food or other blockage through the endoscope’s tube. S/he may also inflate a small balloon to open up the blocked area.
- Swelling or signs of irritation, for instance, after drinking hazardous cleaning fluid or poison.
There are many other health conditions that can be detected through endoscopy.