Endoscopy: what it is, what it is for and how to prepare

Upper gastrointestinal endoscopy is an examination in which a thin tube, called an endoscope, is introduced through the mouth into the stomach, to allow you to observe the walls of organs such as the esophagus, the stomach and the beginning of the intestine. Thus, it is a test widely used to try to identify a cause for some abdominal discomfort that lasts for a long time, with symptoms such as pain, nausea, vomiting, burning, reflux or difficulty swallowing, for example.

Some of the diseases that can be identified through endoscopy include:

  • Gastritis;
  • Gastric or duodenal ulcer;
  • Esophageal varices;
  • Polyps;
  • Hiatal hernia and reflux.

In addition, during endoscopy it is also possible to perform a biopsy, in which a small piece of the organ is removed and sent for analysis in the laboratory, assisting in the diagnosis of more serious problems such as infection by H. pylori or cancer. See the symptoms of  stomach cancer  and how to identify a possible infection by H. pylori .

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What preparation is necessary

Preparing for the exam includes fasting for at least 8 hours and not using antacid medications, such as Ranitidine and Omeprazole, as they alter the stomach and interfere with the exam.

It is allowed to drink water up to 4 hours before the exam, and if it is necessary to take other medications, only small sips of water should be used to help, preventing the stomach from becoming full.

How the exam is done

During the examination, the person usually lies on his side and places an anesthetic in his throat to decrease the sensitivity of the site and facilitate the passage of the endoscope. Due to the use of anesthetic, the exam does not hurt, and in some cases sedatives can also be used to make the patient relax and sleep. 

A small plastic object is placed in the mouth so that it remains open throughout the procedure, and to facilitate the passage of the endoscope and improve visualization, the doctor releases air through the device, which after a few minutes can cause a sensation of full stomach.

The images obtained during the exam can be recorded, and during the same procedure the doctor can remove polyps, collect material for biopsy or apply medications on the spot.

How long does endoscopy last

The exam usually takes about 30 minutes, but it is generally advised to stay in the clinic for observation for 30 to 60 minutes, when the effects of the anesthetics pass.

It is common for the throat to be numb or a little sore, in addition to the feeling of stuffiness, due to the air placed in the stomach during the exam.

If sedatives have been used, it is advisable not to drive or operate heavy machinery for the rest of the day, as the medication reduces body reflexes.

Possible risks of endoscopy

Complications related to endoscopy are rare and occur mainly after longer procedures, such as the removal of polyps.

In general, the complications that occur are usually due to allergies to the drugs used and the presence of problems in the lungs or heart, in addition to the possibility of perforation of an internal organ and hemorrhage.

Thus, if symptoms of fever, difficulty swallowing, abdominal pain, vomiting or dark or bloody stools appear after the procedure, one should go to the hospital to seek help to assess if there were any complications due to endoscopy.

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