Upper endoscopy lets your doctor 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. You
might hear your doctor or other medical staff refer to upper endoscopy
as upper GI endoscopy, esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD) or
panendoscopy. If your doctor has recommended upper endoscopy, this will give you a basic understanding of the procedure - how
it's performed, how it can help, and what side effects you might
experience. It can't answer all of your questions, since a lot depends
on the individual patient and the doctor. Please ask your doctor about
anything you don't understand.
Why is upper endoscopy done?
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
Your doctor might use upper endoscopy to obtain a biopsy (small
tissue samples). A biopsy helps your doctor distinguish between benign
and malignant (cancerous) tissues. 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 to test
for Helicobacter pylori, bacterium that causes ulcers.
Your doctor might also use upper endoscopy to perform a cytology
test, where he or she will introduce a small brush to collect cells for
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.
How should I prepare for the procedure?
An empty stomach allows for the best and safest examination, so you
should have nothing to eat or drink, including water, for approximately
six hours before the examination. Your doctor will tell you when to
Tell your doctor in advance about any medications you take; you
might need to adjust your usual dose for the examination. Discuss any
allergies to medications as well as medical conditions, such as heart
or lung disease.
Also, alert your doctor if you require antibiotics prior to
undergoing dental procedures, because you might need antibiotics prior
to upper endoscopy as well.
What can I expect during upper endoscopy?
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
What happens after upper endoscopy?
You will be monitored until most of the effects of the medication have
worn off. Your throat might be a little sore, and you might feel
bloated because of the air introduced into your stomach during the
test. You will be able to eat after you leave unless your doctor
instructs you otherwise.
Your doctor generally can tell you your test results on the day of
the procedure; however, the results of some tests might take several
If you received sedatives, you won't be allowed to drive after the
procedure even though you might not feel tired. You should arrange for
someone to accompany you home because the sedatives might affect your
judgment and reflexes for the rest of the day.
What are the possible complications of upper endoscopy?
Although complications can occur, they are rare when doctors who are
specially trained and experienced in this procedure perform the test.
Bleeding can occur at a biopsy site or where a polyp was removed, but
it's usually minimal and rarely requires follow-up. Other potential
risks include a reaction to the sedative used, complications from heart
or lung diseases, and perforation (a tear in the gastrointestinal tract
lining). It's important to recognize early signs of possible
complications. If you have a fever after the test, trouble swallowing
or increasing throat, chest or abdominal pain, tell your doctor
Reprinted from the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy (ASGE).