Written by Brian Krans | Published on June 20, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

What Is an Endoscopy?

Endoscopy is a procedure that uses specialized tools to view and operate on the internal organs and vessels of your body. This allows surgeons to view problems within your body without having to make large incisions.

A surgeon inserts an endoscope through a small incision or through an opening in the body such as the mouth. An endoscope is a specialized flexible tube with an attached camera that shows the work being done. Your doctor can use forceps (tongs) and scissors on the endoscope to operate or remove tissue.

An endoscopy is often performed if your doctor has discovered a suspicious growth that may be cancerous.

Reasons an Endoscopy Is Performed

Your doctor may order an endoscopy to visually examine an organ. An endoscope’s lighted camera allows your doctor to view potential problems without a large incision. A screen in the operating room lets the doctor to see exactly what the endoscope sees.

Your doctor may suspect that an organ or specific area of your body is infected, damaged, or cancerous. In this case, your doctor may order an endoscopic biopsy in this procedure, the forceps in an endoscope remove a small sample of tissue to be tested in a lab.

Your doctor will review your symptoms, perform a physical examination, and possibly order some blood tests prior to an endoscopy. These tests will help your doctor gain a more accurate understanding of what might be causing your symptoms. This may also help him or her to determine if the problems can be treated without an endoscopy or surgery.

How to Prepare for an Endoscopy

Your doctor will give you complete instructions for the type of endoscopy you will be having. Most require you to fast up to 12 hours before the procedure. Your doctor may give you laxatives or enemas to use the night before the procedure to clear your system. This is common in procedures involving a rear entry into the gastrointestinal tract.

Prior to the endoscopy, your doctor will do a physical examination and go over your complete medical history, including any prior surgeries. At this point, be sure to tell your doctor about any medications you’re taking, including over-the-counter drugs and nutritional supplements. You may be instructed to stop taking certain medications, as they might affect bleeding.

You may want to arrange a ride home after the procedure, as you might not feel well from the anesthesia.

Types of Endoscopy

Endoscopies fall into categories, based on the area of the body that they investigate. The American Cancer Society lists the following types of endoscopies (American Cancer Society, 2012):

  • arthoscopy—used for joints, with the scope inserted through a small incision near the joint being examined
  • bronchoscopy—used for the lungs, with the scope inserted into your nose or your mouth
  • colonoscopy—used for the colon, with the scope inserted through the anus
  • cystoscopy—used for the bladder, with the scope going through the urethra (the hole where urine is expelled)
  • enteroscopy—used for the small intestine, with the scope going through the mouth or anus
  • hysteroscopy—used for the inside of the uterus, with the scope inserted through the vagina
  • laparoscopy—used for the abdominal or pelvic area, with the scope inserted through a small incision near the area that is being examined
  • laryngoscopy—used for the voice box (larynx), with the scope inserted through the mouth or nostril
  • mediastinoscopy—used for the area between the lungs (mediastinum), with the scope inserted through an incision above the breastbone
  • upper gastrointestinal endoscopy—used for the esophagus and upper intestinal tract, with the scope inserted through the mouth
  • ureteroscopy—used to examine the ureter (the tube that carries urine from the kidneys to the bladder), with the scope inserted through the urethra (the tube that carries urine from the bladder out of the body).

The Risks of Endoscopy

Unlike open surgery, endoscopy has a much lower risk of bleeding and infection. The Mayo Clinic calls endoscopy “a safe procedure” (Mayo, 2010).

Still, endoscopy is a medical procedure, so it carries some risk of bleeding, infection, and other rare complications such as:

  • chest pain
  • damage to organs
  • fever
  • persistent pain in the area of endoscopy
  • redness and swelling at the incision site

The risks for each type depend on the location of the procedure and your own condition. For example, dark-colored stools, vomiting, and difficulty swallowing after a colonoscopy could indicate that something is wrong.

Ask your doctors about warning symptoms to look out for following your endoscopy.

After Endoscopy

Most endoscopies are outpatient procedures. This means you can go home the same day.

Incision wounds will closed up with stitches and properly bandaged immediately after the procedure. Your doctor will give you instructions on how to care for this wound on your own.

Some procedures—such as a colonoscopy, in which entry is made through the anus—may leave you slightly uncomfortable. It may require some time to feel well enough to go about your daily business.

If your doctor suspected a cancerous growth, he or she performed a biopsy during your endoscopy. The results will take a few days. Your doctor will discuss your condition with you when the results come back from the laboratory.

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