Endoscopy 101

June 2, 2015

Endoscopy 101: The Very Basics of What, Why, and How

Medical procedures are becoming so advanced that even the most complex of them can be simplified to become routine, outpatient procedures. One incredibly common procedure that would have seemed impossible decades ago is the endoscopy. Imagine the guesswork involved in diagnosing digestive system disorders before a camera was able to allow doctors to look at the problem. Even these procedures may be evolving out of the need to prod internally to see inside the body. Meanwhile, it is an incredibly common procedure that typically comes with many questions and even anxiety from the patient. Research on the topic is very consistent. The basics of an endoscopy are relatively simple.

There are many kinds of endoscopies, and each is named for the area of the body it is looking at or guided through. They all are similar; an endoscopy is when a specialist inserts a long, thin tube into the body. At the end of the tube is usually a camera, though sometimes it is devised to treat the internal problem after it has been looked at (like removing a growth.) The procedure is most commonly used to examine the digestive system, lungs, or joints. Depending on where the patient’s symptoms are, the endoscope usually enters the body orally or rectally. When joints need endoscopic evaluation, the tube is inserted through an incision.

Many types of patient conditions require an endoscopy. The lungs and abdomen can be evaluated with the endoscope, but there are a higher number of endoscopies performed on the digestive system. The procedure may be used to investigate unexplained stomach pain, ulcers, difficulty swallowing, growths in the colon, digestive tract bleeding, or changes in bowel habits. Endoscopies are used to diagnose and/or treat problems that range from celiac disease to colon cancer.

The specifics of each individual colonoscopy are best provided by the medical professional who is performing the procedure. However, there are several consistencies that may help a patient know what to expect.

    • The patient is usually lying down during the procedure. Vital signs are monitored throughout.


    • A sedative or numbing agent is administered, depending on entry of the endoscope. In the cases where sedatives are used, patients often don’t recall much or any of the procedure. Patients receiving sedatives cannot drive after the endoscopy.


    • Pain is not usually felt during the endoscopy; pain or discomfort afterwards is more common. Depending on the level of discomfort, the patient may be prescribed a pain killer.


    • Complications are rare and few.


    • The time it takes to complete the procedure is fairly minimal. Some take as few as 5-20 minutes while others may last 20-60 minutes.


    • Preparing for the endoscopy is a matter of clearing food from the body. Fasting and the use of laxatives may be necessary 4-8 hours before the procedure.


There are already methods used to see inside the body that don’t require inserting a tube. For the small intestine, it is most effective to swallow a pill with a camera in it. This capsule endoscopy takes pictures as it travels through the small intestine and is expelled through the bowels. There also exists a virtual endoscopy, where CT scan technology is used to provide images. While nothing goes into the body here, the detail is low quality, and if the results are abnormal, a standard endoscopy is still necessary to proceed with treatment.

Knowing what kind of endoscopy is going to be performed helps when researching the procedure. Everything from Mayo Clinic to Wikipedia has varying levels of information. If you need or may need an endoscopy, your doctor’s office, physician, and specialists can give you the most through and accurate information for your specific needs.

Need Help?