What Is Endoscopy? - Definition, Procedure & Complications

Instructor: Marisela Duque

Marisela teaches nursing courses at the college level. She also works as a unit educator, teaching experienced nurses about changes in nursing practice.

After completing this lesson, you will be able to explain what an endoscopy is, describe the procedure and list the possible complications. A short quiz follows the lesson.

What is Endoscopy & How Does it Work?

Can you remember the cartoon where a magical school bus shrinks and then gets swallowed by a person? The kids on the bus are transported through the human body in order to learn about how it all works. What if I told you that endoscopy is like a real-life magic school bus? It is a diagnostic procedure in which doctors insert a device with a small camera at the end (endoscope) into the body in order to visualize your insides.

Endoscopes come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some are stiff, others flexible, and others are small enough to be swallowed like a pill. Endoscopes can be put in the mouth, anus, urethra (tube that carries urine out of your body), or even put through a cut in your skin.

They allow healthcare providers to visualize your body from the inside and sometimes take a tissue sample for a biopsy. This procedure is much safer than having to go through major surgery to find out what the problem is.


In this section, we will focus on one type of endoscopy called an upper endoscopy so that you can have a clear picture of the procedure. An upper endoscopy is done to be able to see your upper digestive system (specifically your esophagus, stomach & duodenum). This procedure is better at finding tumors, bleeding, inflammation and ulcers than an x-ray. It may be done in a doctor's office, outpatient diagnostic center or in a hospital.

The specifics of the procedure will differ from other types of endoscopy in ways such as the entry point and preparation leading up to procedure. Let's take a look at how an upper endoscopy is done.

First, you are asked not to eat or drink anything (not even water) after a specified time. This makes the procedure safer because your stomach will be empty, which limits the possibility of vomiting. Having an empty stomach also allows the examiner to see everything better.

When everyone is ready to start the procedure, the doctor may spray a little anesthesia into your mouth to make sure that you are pain free. Don't worry, you are also given a sedative so you will not feel anything or remember the procedure at all (just like after having one too many beers, minus the ugly hangover).

Then, you lay on your side while the doctor inserts the endoscope into your mouth and through your upper gastrointestinal track, all the way down to your duodenum (the first part of your intestines). Along the way the doctor may take pictures and tissue samples using the endoscope.

Side Effects and Complications

Side effects and complications can differ according to the type of endoscopy being performed. If you were given a sedative for the procedure, then you will be asked to rest in a bed while the effects wear off. You will also need a ride home because the groggy feeling will last for a little while and your reflexes may take the rest of the day to return to normal. You may feel a little soreness at the entry point and a little bloated following the procedure. The bloated feeling comes from the air they pump into you to better visualize everything. Usually you are allowed to eat after the procedure (you should be starving by this time).

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