We’ve made it to 2021 (*cue celebration/fireworks/confetti)!! Alright! Now, give someone a high five...err, wait, a fist bump! Oh, yeah, not that either. An elbow bump? Ehhhhh, maybe not. Okay, look at someone, give them a head nod with a smile, and pump that fist in the air once.
Most of us are gladly looking forward to a new year filled with fresh outlooks and outcomes, and one of the keys to a successful year begins with making a commitment to your health. Taking care of yourself is more than changing exercise habits (or beginning them, for some of us) and adjusting your diet. It is also committing to addressing the health issues that are nagging at us like a small child that pulls on our clothes when they have a question, or 10. While medical conditions that affect the gastrointestinal tract can be rather unpleasant to say the least, catering here to your reservations and fears of getting checked out by a gastroenterologist is probably doing you more long-term harm, which will ultimately result in more invasive procedures. In fact, the ‘mystery’ digestive condition that you are struggling through and reluctant to talk about with a doctor is in all likelihood a treatable condition that can be diagnosed by a test the doctor can order or even administer. One such test is an endoscopy.
What is an Endoscopy
The ability for a gastroenterologist to see inside the gastrointestinal tract is extremely important, as it visually offers and provides valuable information that can often quickly identify the problem. One of the most common procedures used is an upper endoscopy. Known by its official medical term as an esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD), the procedure gives a real-time visual examination of the upper part of the gastrointestinal tract. During this procedure, an upper endoscopic tube and camera are gently fed down the esophagus, through the stomach, and into the duodenum, which is the first part of the small intestine.
Why is an endoscopy ordered? Well, an endoscopy gives doctors a way to investigate the digestive tract and diagnose evidence of a possible medical condition. Usually a gastroenterologist will only move forward with an endoscopy after the patient has been to the office and been evaluated with a more traditional medical exam. Depending on their severity, the doctor may order the procedure to investigate some of the following symptoms:
- Chronic Diarrhea
- Chronic Constipation
- Abdominal pain
How Do I Prepare for an Endoscopy?
Although the traditional upper endoscopy is a relatively common and simple procedure, there are some important preparations for patients before they even get to the office.
The first is to fast from food and water for at least 8 hours before the procedure. Some ask if this is really necessary, but the potential risks from ignoring this part of the preparation are potentially severe and life-threatening.
Next, make sure you have arranged transportation to, and most importantly, back home from the procedure. You will be under the influence of a mild sedative to relax you and allow the doctors to complete the procedure. Therefore, driving home is not an option.
Let the doctor know about any medications or herbal supplements you are taking. Depending on the regular medications you take, the doctor may instruct you to stop taking them until the procedure is over. Some of the medications or supplements may interfere or negatively react with the sedative.
In addition, make sure the doctor and staff know about any chronic medical conditions you may have like high blood pressure, diabetes, or heart disease, as there may be additional instructions given necessary for the procedure. This is why it’s important to discuss openly with the doctor during the medical history portion of the initial exam with no reservations.
You can dress in a casual or comfortable manner. Also, bring any new patient forms that you were required to fill out.
What Happens After the Procedure?
An endoscopy is a relatively short procedure that normally takes between 15-30 minutes. It could potentially take longer, depending on a patient’s particular circumstances or whether or not the doctor may also be using endoscopic tools for treatment purposes.
When the doctor has completed the examination, he or she will carefully retract the tube. The patient will then be brought to a recovery room to be monitored until the sedative wears off enough for the patient to be discharged. The doctor will recommend not driving or resuming normal activities for the rest of the day.
Since the procedure is mildly invasive, it is possible for a patient to feel some side effects from the presence of the endoscopic tube in the digestive tract. The possible post-endoscopy symptoms can include gas, cramping, bloating, or a sore throat. These are temporary, however, and should dissipate by the next day.
What are the Risks of an Endoscopy?
You can rest easy, as an endoscopy is generally a very safe procedure for the vast majority of people. Even so, there are risks and complications that can arise during or after the procedure of which you should be aware. A few of the potential risks include:
Over-sedation: This is rare, but as with any time sedation is used, there is a risk of cardiovascular, respiratory, or allergy-related problems that can develop.
Aspiration: Aspiration occurs when food or drink gets into the lungs, which is possible if you have consumed food or water in the 8 hour window before your procedure. This would become a severe complication while you are sedated and not worth the snack or drink you had consumed.
Perforation: It is not common, but it is possible for the camera and tube itself to cause a slight tear in the lining of the gastrointestinal tract. This can cause mild discomfort or pain, but generally heals quickly.
In addition to potential risks during the procedure, there are things you should look out for post-endoscopy as a sign of a potential complication that needs to be addressed by the doctor. These include difficulty swallowing, infection, bloody or dark stool, fever, chest or abdominal pain, vomiting, and shortness of breath.
If you’ve already had an endoscopy and have been experiencing any of the above symptoms, you should call a doctor or go to an emergency room. While rare, these complications could potentially be life-threatening.
When Should I Make an Appointment?
Are you having signs and symptoms of gastrointestinal distress? Are they happening more frequently or have become a regular part of your life? If so, it is time to visit a health care specialist that can diagnose and treat your condition. Schedule a visit with GI Associates today and begin the journey towards great health in 2021.