What’s an esophagoscopy?

An esophagoscopy involves inserting a long, narrow, tube-like device with a light and a camera, known as an endoscope, into your esophagus.

The esophagus is a long, muscular tube that helps get food and liquids from your mouth to your stomach. Using an endoscope, your doctor examines your esophagus for abnormalities or takes a tissue sample (biopsy) to test it for certain conditions. Your doctor can also use tools attached to the endoscope to perform treatment or surgery.

Let’s learn about the types of esophagoscopy, why it’s used, and what you can expect before, during, and after the procedure.

Endoscopy is the name for any procedure that includes inserting a tube with a light and camera into your body to examine internal organs and cavities. Some require your doctor to make small cuts through the skin so that the tube and any surgical tools can be inserted.

Esophagoscopy is a type of endoscopy that doesn’t require incisions. The endoscope is inserted through your nose or mouth into your esophagus. This allows your doctor to see the inside of your upper gastrointestinal (GI) tract. This includes your esophagus, stomach, and the beginning of your small intestine.

An esophagoscopy may be done along with a physical examination or ultrasound imaging. This helps your doctor determine your overall health or diagnose a condition.

There are several types of esophagoscopy:

A rigid esophagoscopy involves inserting a stiff, inflexible tube by hand through your mouth into your esophagus. The tube usually includes an eyepiece, a light, and several lenses to allow your doctor to see inside your throat. This type can help your doctor perform minor surgical procedures inside the esophagus or diagnose certain conditions, such as esophageal cancer.

A flexible esophagoscopy involves inserting a thin, flexible tube into your esophagus. Tiny electrical cables run through the endoscope tube to shine light into the esophagus through a bundle of fibers as well as send images back to a monitor.

A transnasal esophagoscopy involves inserting an endoscope through your nostrils, into your nasal cavity, and down the back of your throat into your esophagus. This is usually considered the least invasive type. It can be done quickly and you don’t usually have to be under anesthesia.

An esophagoscopy may be done as part of a routine physical examination. It may also be done if you have one or more of the following symptoms:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • trouble swallowing
  • constant feeling of having a lump in your throat (globus pharyngeus)
  • a long-term cough that won’t go away
  • long-term heartburn that hasn’t gone away with changes to your diet or by taking antacids
  • stomach acid moving up the esophagus into the throat (laryngopharyngeal reflux)

An esophagoscopy may be used to:

  • figure out what’s causing abnormal throat, stomach, or intestinal symptoms
  • take a tissue sample (biopsy) for diagnosis of cancer or other conditions, such as dysphagia or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • remove any large collection of food (known as a bolus) or foreign object stuck in the esophagus
  • see the inside of your upper GI tract during surgery

It may also be used with other GI imaging procedures, such as:

  • gastroscopy to examine your stomach
  • enteroscopy to examine your small intestine
  • colonoscopy to examine your large intestine

You can prepare for an esophagoscopy by doing the following:

  • Don’t eat or drink for about six to eight hours before the esophagoscopy. This clears out your stomach so that your doctor can see the inside of your upper GI tract more easily. You can still drink clear liquids, such as water, juice, coffee, or clear soda.
  • Stop taking any blood thinners, such as warfarin (Coumadin) or aspirin. This decreases your risk of bleeding in case your doctor needs to take a tissue sample or perform surgery.
  • Make sure your doctor knows about any other medications you’re taking. Include dietary supplements or vitamins.
  • Have a friend or family member drive or walk you to and from the procedure. This will ensure you get home safely. If you’re doing the procedure without sedatives or anesthesia, you may drive back home on your own.

Esophagoscopy procedures can vary based on their type.

The procedure can take anywhere from about half an hour to up to three hours. In many cases, it’s an outpatient procedure, so you can go home the same day.

To perform the procedure, your doctor does the following:

  1. Uses anesthesia through an intravenous (IV) tube to keep you asleep or applies a substance, such as lidocaine, to numb your nose or throat so that the endoscope doesn’t feel uncomfortable.
  2. Inserts the endoscope slowly and gently through the mouth or nose into your throat.
  3. Looks through an eyepiece or at a screen projecting images from the endoscope to view the inside of your esophagus. Your doctor may also inject a small amount of air to open the esophagus for easier viewing.
  4. Uses tools, such as forceps or a hollow suction tube, to take a tissue sample, remove a mass, or suck out any blockages in the esophagus.
  5. Performs any necessary procedures to treat esophageal conditions. This can include:
  • injections to shrink enlarged veins (or varices) or help with swallowing
  • treatment with lasers or heat to remove cancerous tissue
  • tying off veins with bands to keep them from bleeding

An esophagoscopy is considered highly safe with only minor risks. Most complications are temporary and heal quickly.

Possible risks include:

  • throat soreness, discomfort, or pain
  • hoarse voice
  • minor difficulty swallowing for a few days
  • irritation, injury, or tearing (perforation) of esophagus tissue
  • air caught under your skin (subcutaneous surgical emphysema)
  • internal bleeding (hemorrhage)
  • infection
  • fever

Some things to keep in mind after this procedure:

  • You’ll likely feel tired or uncomfortable after the procedure, especially if you were given anesthesia. The effects of anesthesia usually wear off after a day.
  • You’ll need to stay in the hospital for 30 minutes up to a few hours so that your doctor can keep an eye on your condition and your vital signs, such as your heart rate and breathing, until they feel that you’re ready to go home. At this point, make sure someone can drive you or escort you home.
  • It’s normal to feel some drowsiness, abdominal cramping or bloating, and throat soreness or pain for a few hours or days afterward.
  • Pain and discomfort from the procedure should gradually get better. If they don’t, see your doctor right away to make sure you aren’t experiencing any complications.

Seek emergency medical attention if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • pain or discomfort getting worse over time
  • vomiting or pooping blood
  • difficulty breathing
  • pain in your chest
  • fever

An esophagoscopy is a very safe procedure. The outlook depends on what your doctor is investigating or treating during the procedure. You may receive the results right away, or you may have to wait a few days for tissue samples to be tested by a laboratory. Ask your doctor when your results will be available.