What is a gastroscopy?
A gastroscopy is a procedure which allows for examination of the upper section of the gastrointestinal tract; the oesophagus (gullet - food pipe), the stomach and the first part off the small intestine (duodenum). The procedure is performed by endoscopic specialists, a doctor or a nurse, who have been trained in how to perform the test. This procedure uses a long, narrow, flexible camera called an gastroscope (see picture). A mouthguard is placed in the mouth between the teeth (see picture). The gastroscope is passed through the mouth, down the oesophagus and into the stomach; it does not interfere with breathing as it does not pass down the trachea (windpipe).
What are the benefits?
The main benefit of a gastroscopy being performed is to find a cause of your symptoms. Sometimes, an added benefit is the ability to perform treatment during the procedure.
What are the risks?
For the majority of patients, a gastroscopy is a safe examination and thankfully serious complications are rare. However, you do need to weigh up the risks and benefits before having the procedure. It is important to note that the sedation can also have risks as well as the procedure itself.
The main risks are:
• Perforation of (a hole in the wall of) the oesophagus, stomach or intestine - rarely in <1:10 000 procedures.
• Bleeding at the site of a biopsy - this is usually only minor and resolves on its own.
• Aspiration - food or fluid brought up whilst vomiting and affecting the lungs - unlikely as you have been fasted.
What are the alternatives?
You are under no obligation to have this procedure. Any suitable alternatives should have been discussed in advance with your clinician.
There are alternatives to a gastroscopy however they are generally considered to be less accurate and sometimes involve radiation which can be harmful.
A barium swallow is an examination of your oesophagus. You will be asked to drink a liquid that is visible on x-ray to see what happens when you swallow. This does involve some exposure to radiation. It is also not possible to take any biopsies during a barium swallow.
The decision is yours as to whether to have a gastroscopy or not. However, without a gastroscopy your doctor may not be able to find a cause of your symptoms and it may be difficult to plan any further treatment.