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Digestive Health Special Report

What to Expect From Your Endoscopy

If you are having problems with your upper digestive tract -- nausea, vomiting, acid reflux, gastrointestinal bleeding, or indigestion -- you may need to undergo an upper endoscopy, which examines the inside of the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum. Most people are nervous about having an upper endoscopy, but the procedure is safe and usually produces little or no discomfort.

An upper endoscopy is a way to examine the inside lining of the upper digestive tract. The procedure uses an endoscope -- a long, thin, flexible tube with a light and tiny video camera at one end. The doctor guides the endoscope into the upper digestive tract and looks for abnormalities such as inflammation, ulcers, and tumors. In some cases, the doctor uses the endoscope to treat the abnormality.

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Preparing for endoscopy. Before you are scheduled for the endoscopy, it is important not to eat or drink anything for at least six to eight hours. Food in the stomach or duodenum can block the view of the upper digestive tract and could cause you to vomit. You must also make arrangements for someone to drive you home afterwards because the sedative used during the endoscopy can affect your judgment and reflexes for the rest of the day.

What happens during endoscopy? An upper endoscopy is performed in a hospital or a doctor's office and takes about 30 minutes. A numbing agent will be sprayed into your throat to prevent gagging when the endoscope is inserted. You'll also receive a pain medication and a sedative to keep you relaxed. Then, while you are lying on your left side, the doctor will slowly and gently insert the endoscope into the upper digestive tract. Air will be blown into the stomach through the endoscope to make it easier for the doctor to see the lining of the digestive tract. The images from the endoscope are viewed on a television monitor. If the doctor notices anything abnormal in the lining of the upper digestive tract, a tissue sample (a biopsy sample) may be taken for examination under a microscope. Instruments can be inserted into the endoscope to stop bleeding from an ulcer, to remove a non-cancerous growth, or to stretch a narrowed area of the esophagus. When the endoscopy is done, the endoscope is removed.

During the endoscopy the doctor and a nurse will administer pain medicine and sedatives while closely monitoring your vital signs (rate of your heart contractions, blood pressure, oxygen content in your blood, and so on) to ensure safety. What happens after endoscopy? After the endoscopy, you will be taken to a recovery room to rest until the sedative wears off. This usually takes about one to two hours. Before you go home, your doctor will tell you the results. If a tissue sample was taken, your doctor will call you with results in a couple of days. You should rest for the remainder of the day and avoid driving.

Bottom line on endoscopy: An upper endoscopy is safe when performed by a doctor trained and experienced in the procedure. Serious complications, such as excessive bleeding, aspiration of stomach contents or saliva into the lungs, and puncture of the intestinal wall, are extremely rare. Some people have mild complications, such as a sore throat or bloating (due to the air introduced during the procedure), which usually disappear within 24 hours. Contact your doctor immediately if you experience signs of a serious complication (such as fever, difficulty swallowing, or increasing throat, chest, or abdominal pain).

Posted in Digestive Health on January 26, 2009

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