What to expect from a gastroscopy
Risks, benefits, and what to expect with a gastroscopy
If you’ve been experiencing symptoms such as indigestion, nausea, stomach discomfort or difficulty swallowing, your doctor may send you for a gastroscopy. It’s a very safe procedure that doesn’t require a full general anaesthetic or an overnight hospital stay, but if it’s your first time having this procedure, you may have some questions about what exactly a gastroscopy involves.
At nib, we consider ourselves your health partner. Here to help when it comes to understanding the complexities of navigating the hospital system as well as breaking down what might be involved in treatment and recovery. And while your healthcare provider is always the best person to provide you personalised information, we’ve answered some of the biggest questions you might have about what to expect from a gastroscopy.
What is a gastroscopy?
Also known as an upper endoscopy, a gastroscopy is a procedure doctors use to look at the beginning of the gastrointestinal tract. This includes the oesophagus, the stomach and the first part of the small intestine (also known as the duodenum).
A gastroscopy uses a piece of equipment called a gastroscope or endoscope – a thin, flexible tube with a light and a camera at the tip – to give your gastroenterologist a direct view of your upper digestive system. The gastroscope is passed through your mouth while you’re under light sedation and produces an image of the internal organs on a screen.
While an X-ray can also be used to investigate symptoms in this part of the body, gastroscopy is a more accurate diagnostic tool and also allows your doctor to take samples (a biopsy) if needed.
Why you might need a gastroscopy
Your doctor may send you for a gastroscopy to find the cause of symptoms such as abdominal pain, chronic nausea, frequent vomiting, bleeding, indigestion, bloating, difficulties swallowing or other GI tract issues. It is also an important test for the diagnosis of various gastric diseases, including cancer.
A gastroscopy can detect things like inflammation, ulcers, tumours or polyps in the upper gastrointestinal tract, and is also the best test to diagnose the cause of any bleeding in that part of the body.
As well as determining the causes behind gastrointestinal symptoms, your doctor may use gastroscopy to take tissue samples for testing, or to treat certain conditions, such as bleeding ulcers, removing polyps, stretching narrow areas of the oesophagus or removing foreign objects.
How is a gastroscopy performed?
A gastroscopy is a straightforward procedure that usually only takes 5 to 10 minutes. Your doctor will start by giving you a light anaesthetic (not a full general anaesthetic) to sedate you. They may also spray the back of your throat with a local anaesthetic to reduce discomfort and put in a mouthguard to prevent you biting down on the gastroscope.
Your doctor will insert the gastroscope into your mouth and gently down the oesophagus, into stomach and duodenum. There, the light and camera enable your doctor to see the lining of your GI tract on the connected screen.
Before your gastroscopy
Your doctor will talk you through specific instructions ahead of your procedure but be sure to let them know ahead of time about any medications you regularly take, along with any allergies and whether you have heart valve disease or a pacemaker.
It’s important that you have an empty stomach for a gastroscopy, not only so the doctor can clearly see your GI tract but also so that you don’t vomit during the procedure. You’ll need to fast for at least six hours prior to the procedure . Failing to do this may mean your gastroscopy gets postponed.
Related: What to expect from day surgery
After a gastroscopy
Thanks to the sedation, you may feel drowsy following your gastroscopy and you could feel bloated thanks to air introduced into your stomach during the procedure. You may have a sore throat, too, but you should be able to eat straightaway (unless your doctor tells you otherwise).
Once the sedation has worn off, your doctor will likely speak to you about your results – however, as the sedative may affect your memory for a few hours after the procedure (even when it seems to have worn off), it’s a good idea to have a friend or family member with you in case you forget the details.
It’s also important that you do not drive or travel on public transport alone after the procedure, so ask a friend or family member to drive you home. It’s also advised that you avoid operating machinery, signing legal documents or drinking alcohol on the same day after the test.
Are there risks involved in a gastroscopy?
Like any medical procedure there are some risks involved, but overall gastroscopy is very safe, and side effects and complications are extremely uncommon. It is possible (though rare) for the stomach or bowel to be punctured, or for accidental damage to a blood vessel or the GI tract lining to occur – if this happens, you’ll be sent for surgery.
If you have a fever or difficulty swallowing, or notice worsening pain in your throat, chest or stomach after your gastroscopy, contact your doctor straight away.
Are you heading to hospital soon?
If you’re with nib, make sure you check out our Going to Hospital page. This tool gives you information on health insurance, tips on how to reduce any out-of-pocket expenses and helpful questions to ask your specialist. To find out the details of your current policy, chat to someone about an upcoming hospital visit or get some guidance, please check out our contact page or call us on 13 16 42.
Please note: The tips throughout this article serve as broad information and should not replace any advice you have been given by your medical practitioner.
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