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Endoscopy is a procedure in which a physician examines a patient’s digestive tract from within. During an endoscopy, an endoscope—an instrument that features a minute camera and a light mounted on a long, hollow, flexible tube—is inserted into a patient’s lower or upper digestive tracts.
Images from the camera are transmitted to an eyepiece via fiber optics, enabling the physician to view the organs in real time. Small instruments may be inserted via the endoscopes and used to remove a small tissue sample to be examined for diagnostic purposes or to remove polyps.

When performing an upper endoscopy, a physician first passes an endoscope through the patient’s mouth and throat and into their esophagus. After examining the esophagus, the physician inserts the endoscope further, into the patient’s stomach and their small intestine, in order to examine the interior of these organs.

A lower endoscopy involves inserting an endoscopy through a patient’s rectum into the large intestine. When only the lowest portion of the large intestine is examined, the procedure is also known as a sigmoidoscopy. A colonoscopy entails examination of a larger portion of the large intestine.

Upper endoscopy is used to investigate the causes of symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain and to diagnose conditions and diseases of the digestive tract such as ulcers and gastritis. Symptoms that might be investigated via lower endoscopy include changes in bowel habits, anemia and gastrointestinal bleeding. Conditions that may be diagnosed using lower endoscopy include colon and rectal cancers, ulcerative colitis, Krohn’s disease, diverticulosis and others.

Endoscopy is generally done by gastroenterologists or gastrointestinal surgeons. Patients are required to fast prior to upper endoscopy exams and to empty their colons with the aid of laxatives before undergoing lower endoscopy. Because the exams are unpleasant or even painful, and are more easily done when the patient is relaxed, patients are generally sedated during the procedure.

In recent years, new endoscopy technology has been developed that utilizes a tiny magnetically guided capsule to image the digestive tract. Patients swallow the pill-sized capsule, which includes a minute camera that transmits image pictures as the capsule passes through the digestive tract. Capsule endoscopy is ideal for examining the middle part of the digestive tract that cannot be reached via upper or lower endoscopy.

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