An endoscope is a medical device consisting of a camera mounted on a flexible tube. Small instruments can be used to take samples of suspicious tissues through the endoscope.

In gastrointestinal endoscopy, this device is inserted through the mouth or anus. For other areas, small incisions are made.

How the test is performed

There are many types of endoscope, and they are named in relation to the organs or areas they explore. Endoscopes used to look directly at the ovaries, appendix, or other abdominal organs, for example, are called laparoscopes (laparoscopy).

Other endoscopes are inserted through incisions to look at joints (arthroscopy) or the lungs (bronchoscopy), and still others are used to view the inside of the bladder (cystoscopy).

Please see the following tests or procedures for more information on how the test will feel, the risks, why the test is performed, and normal and abnormal results:

  • Anoscopy  
  • Arthroscopy  
  • Bronchoscopy  
  • Chorionic villus sampling  
  • Colonoscopy  
  • Cystoscopy  
  • EGD (esophagogastroduodenoscopy)  
  • ERCP  
  • Fetal blood testing  
  • Laparoscopy  
  • Sigmoidoscopy  
  • Small bowel biopsy

How to prepare for the test

Before some types of endoscopy, such as an examination of the upper of the gastrointestinal tract, the you may be asked not to eat or drink before the exam. Before an examination of the lower gastrointestinal tract, the patient may also be asked to clear the colon of stool with enemas or laxatives.

Ask your health care provider about any special preparation before your endoscopy.

How the test will feel

During an endoscopy, the patient is sedated. With appropriate sedation, the patient should experience little if any discomfort.

Why the test is performed

An endoscopy may be performed for a variety of signs and symptoms, including bleeding, pain, difficulty swallowing, and a change in bowel habits. Exams of the colon may also be performed to screen for colon polyps and colon cancer.

Normal Values

The examination should reveal normal function and appearance of the area being examined. For example, with gastrointestinal endoscopy, the lining of the gastrointestinal tract should be smooth, with no atypical growths or lesions.

What abnormal results mean

A wide variety of abnormal findings may occur, and the physician will review them following the exam.

What the risks are

The major risks are pain, bleeding, or infection. For gastrointestinal endoscopy, there is also arisk of perforation (tearing) of the intestinal wall.

Reactions to the anesthesia may rarely occur, and for this reason your breathing, blood pressure, heart rate, and oxygen level will be monitored during the procedure.

Special considerations

Endoscopies also can be used to perform therapeutic procedures, including treatment of bleeding lesions and removal of colon polyps.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 2, 2012
by Arthur A. Poghosian, M.D.

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