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Upper Endoscopy for Diagnosing Heartburn and Reflux

An upper endoscopy can be used to determine the cause of heartburn and is often performed as an outpatient procedure. Upper endoscopy uses a thin scope with a light and camera at its tip to look inside of the upper digestive system -- the esophagus, stomach, and the first part of the small intestine, called the duodenum. During endoscopy, certain procedures such as taking a small tissue sample (biopsy) for testing may be performed.

Sometimes, the procedure is done in emergencies in the hospital or emergency room to both identify and treat upper digestive system bleeding such as from an ulcer.

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In addition to heartburn, the procedure may also be used to help evaluate:

  • Upper abdominal pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Stomach bleeding
  • Swallowing disorders

Endoscopy can also help identify inflammation, ulcers, and tumors.

Upper endoscopy can be more accurate than X-rays or other imaging for detecting abnormal growths and for examining the inside of the upper digestive system.

 

What Should I Do Before an Upper Endoscopy?

Before the upper endoscopy, tell your doctor about any medications (including over-the-counter) or supplements you are taking and about any medical problems or special conditions you have. You may be asked to hold off on certain medications or supplements prior to the procedure or afterward.

 

Can I Eat or Drink Anything Before an Upper Endoscopy?

An upper endoscopy requires that you have an empty stomach before the procedure. Do not eat or drink anything for at least six hours before the procedure, or as directed by your doctor or nurse.

Talk to your doctor about any changes that may be needed to your regular medication regimen. Ask if necessary medications may be taken with a small sip of water. 

 

I Have Diabetes. Can I Take Insulin the Day of my Upper Endoscopy?

If you have diabetes and use insulin, you must adjust the dosage of insulin the day of your upper endoscopy. Bring your diabetes medication if your doctor recommends that you take it after the procedure.

Will I Be Able to Drive Home Following my Upper Endoscopy?

No. You will need to bring a responsible adult with you to take you home after the endoscopy. You should not drive or operate machinery for the rest of the day of the procedure to ensure that the sedative effects have worn off. 

What Can I Expect the Day of my Upper Endoscopy?

  • A doctor will explain the upper endoscopy in detail, including possible complications and side effects. The doctor will also answer any questions you may have.
  • An experienced doctor will perform the procedure.
  • You will be asked to wear a hospital gown and to remove your eyeglasses and dentures.
  • A local anesthetic (pain-relieving medication) may be applied at the back of your throat.
  • You will be given a pain reliever and a sedative intravenously (in your vein). You will feel relaxed and drowsy.
  • A mouthpiece will be placed in your mouth. It does not interfere with your breathing.
  • You will lie on your left side during the procedure.
  • The doctor will insert the endoscope into your mouth, through your esophagus (the "food pipe" leading from your mouth into your stomach) and into your stomach. The endoscope does not interfere with your breathing.
  • Most procedures take 15 to 30 minutes.

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