Upper endoscopy allows your doctor to examine the lining of the upper part of your gastrointestinal tract, which includes the esophagus, stomach and duodenum (first portion of the small intestine). Your doctor will use a thin, flexible tube called an endoscope, which has its own lens and light source, and will view the images on a video monitor.
Upper endoscopy helps your doctor evaluate symptoms of persistent upper abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting or difficulty swallowing. It’s an excellent test for finding the cause of bleeding from the upper gastrointestinal tract. It’s also more accurate than X-ray films for detecting inflammation, ulcers and tumors of the esophagus, stomach and duodenum.
Your doctor might use upper endoscopy to obtain a biopsy of small tissue samples. A biopsy helps your doctor distinguish between benign and malignant (cancerous) tumors. Remember, biopsies are taken for many reasons, and your doctor might order one even if he or she does not suspect cancer. For example, your doctor might use a biopsy test to check for Helicobacter pylori, a bacterium that causes ulcers.
Upper endoscopy is also used to treat conditions of the upper gastrointestinal tract. Your doctor can pass instruments through the endoscope to directly treat many abnormalities with little or no discomfort. For example, your doctor might stretch a narrowed area, remove polyps (usually benign growths) or treat bleeding.
Your doctor might start by spraying your throat with a local anesthetic or by giving you a sedative to help you relax. You’ll then lie on your side, and your doctor will pass the endoscope through your mouth and into the esophagus, stomach and duodenum. The endoscope doesn’t interfere with your breathing. Most patients consider the test only slightly uncomfortable, and many patients fall asleep during the procedure.
Although complications can occur, they are rare when doctors who are specially trained and experienced in this procedure perform the test. It is important to recognize early signs of possible complications: