Women's Gastrointestinal Medicine
Women's Medicine Collaborative

Frequently Asked Questions: Endoscopy

What is an upper endoscopy?
An upper endoscopy is a procedure during which your doctor uses a small, flexible tube to see inside your esophagus, stomach, and duodenum (the upper part of your small intestine). The procedure is often used to diagnose and treat digestive disorders such as chronic indigestion, heartburn, abdominal pain, vomiting, swallowing difficulties and hoarseness, all common in women.

How is the upper endoscopy performed?
You will be given moderate sedation through an intravenous (IV) line to make you relaxed and drowsy during the procedure, but you will remain awake. The doctor will insert the endoscope (a thin, flexible, lighted tube) over your tongue, down through the esophagus and into the stomach. The doctor will inflate your stomach slightly by passing air down the endoscope, to obtain a clearer view. This is not painful, but it may be a bit uncomfortable. If the doctor needs to take some tissue samples (biopsies), this can be done painlessly through the endoscope. The procedure itself takes 15 to 30 minutes, although you should plan on two to three hours between waiting, preparation and recovery. You must have a responsible adult with you to drive you home.

What happens during the endoscopy?
During your procedure, you will lie on your left side with your knees slightly bent. Your doctor will give you medication through the intravenous (IV) line. You will be given oxygen through a nasal tube; a device will be placed on your finger to monitor your oxygen levels; and electrodes will be placed on your chest to monitor your heart. You will wear a plastic guard in your mouth to protect your teeth and the endoscope. A nurse will be at your side during the entire procedure-if you are experiencing greater than average discomfort, you can alert the nurse, and you will be given additional sedative or pain relief medication. When the procedure is finished, the scope is quickly removed.

What happens after the endoscopy?
After your endoscopy, you will remain in the recovery room for up to an hour to be monitored. When you are alert and awake, you can have a drink, and then get dressed to go home. You may find that the air put into your belly during the procedure leaves you with a bloated sensation. This should disappear quickly when you pass gas or burp.

What should I do to prepare for the procedure?

  • You will not be able to drive the day of your procedure. A responsible adult must come into the endoscopy suite, sign you out of the unit following your procedure, and accompany you home (by car, taxi or bus-as long as you are accompanied).
  • Please have any required blood work done one to two weeks before your procedure (your provider will give you a lab slip). The blood work may be completed at any laboratory. There is a lab at the West River Center.
  • Please check with your insurance company before the procedure to confirm your coverage.
  • Eat lightly during the two days before the test and try to avoid hard-to-digest foods, such as meat, nuts and eggs.
  • Bring a detailed list of your medications, including over-the-counter medications and supplements. List the dose (ex: 10 mgs) and when you take it (ex: once a day at bedtime).

What are the risks of an upper endoscopy?

  • If tissue samples are taken and/or polyps are removed, you may experience a small amount of bleeding.  Most of the time, the bleeding will stop on its own.
  • In very rare cases, more serious complications can ensue: a hole (called a perforation) or tear in the esophagus or stomach wall, requiring surgery to repair;  infection, which is treated with medication; or fluid from the GI tract entering the lungs, causing aspiration or pneumonia. This can be treated with medication.
  • Some people have a reaction to the medicines used to relax you during the upper endoscopy. Reactions may include a skin rash, nausea, vomiting, temporary difficulty in breathing, palpitations, low blood pressure, seizures, brain damage, or death.

Can I have a different screening test instead of an upper endoscopy?
There is one alternative test available for patients who are unable or unwilling to have an upper endoscopy. A barium x-ray can be used to study the organs in the upper part of your stomach. However, this test does not allow your doctor to look directly at the esophagus, stomach or duodenum, or to remove polyps or take biopsies.