What Is an Upper Endoscopy and Why Would I Need One?

Upper endoscopy is a procedure used to diagnose and sometimes treat issues of the upper digestive tract. Using a small camera affixed to a thin, flexible tube, called an endoscope, your doctor or gastroenterologist can visually examine the lining of your esophagus, stomach, and the first part of your small intestine called the duodenum. Upper endoscopies are commonly used to detect growths, lesions or abnormalities not visible on x-rays.

During this procedure, you will be given anesthesia or a sedative to keep you relaxed and comfortable. You may be asked to gargle a liquid anesthetic to prevent gagging. As you lie on the exam table, your doctor will gently insert the endoscope into your mouth and down your throat to examine your upper digestive tract. You will be able to continue breathing on your own and will likely only experience mild pressure or discomfort. The procedure generally lasts about 20 to 30 minutes.

There are several reasons why your doctor may order an upper endoscopy. These include:

  • Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Upper abdominal pain or chest pain
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Intractable vomiting (continuous vomiting from an unknown cause)
  • Narrowing of the esophagus (strictures)
  • Gastrointestinal bleeding
  • Inflammation and ulcers
  • Tumors
  • Hiatal hernia
  • Damage caused by ingestion of harmful substances

In addition to diagnosis, upper endoscopies allow physicians to perform a variety of treatments (Source: Johns Hopkins Medicine). Using small instruments inserted through the endoscope, your doctor can:

  • Collect tissue samples for biopsy
  • Control bleeding
  • Remove tumors or growths
  • Dilate narrowed areas (strictures)
  • Remove foreign objects
  • Perform laser therapy
  • Insert a gastronomy feeding tube

For more information about upper endoscopy, schedule an appointment with your gastroenterologist or primary care physician. Together you can discuss the risks and benefits of this procedure and determine whether it is the best next step in managing your digestive health.