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In our modern age of medicine, patients are frequently given advice to undergo procedures about which they, as laypeople, know little or nothing at all. Such is the case with endoscopy, which WebMD defines as “a nonsurgical procedure used to examine a person’s digestive tract.” 1
The following should help clarify the facts around the common yet mysterious set of procedures known as endoscopy.
A colonoscopy, by contrast, goes the opposite direction and is a procedure in which the endoscope is inserted in the rectum and into the large intestine (colon). According to Mount Sinai, “Endoscopy can be both diagnostic and therapeutic” 3 meaning it can both detect a disease such as cancer as well as be used in treatment.
There are a number of procedures that fall into this category. Some types of endoscopy include:
Endoscopies or “minimally invasive” procedures have become quite popular, in part because of the perception that they are low risk. But that doesn’t mean they are pain-free nor are they by any means risk-free. 15
Endoscopic operations may last longer than traditional surgery and in some cases may be more difficult for the surgeon. 16 In fact, for elderly or frail patients, traditional surgery may be a safer option. 17
The bottom line is that just because endoscopic procedures are an option, that doesn’t mean they are the best option for every patient in every circumstance. 18 Check with your doctor to determine if they are the best procedures for you to undergo.
Yes, there are many potential complications. According to the Mayo Clinic, these complications are rare but they most certainly do exist.
First and foremost is bleeding. The likelihood of experiencing bleeding is increased if the endoscopic procedure involves removal of tissues, such as polyps.
Then there is risk of infection. Recently, some duodenoscopes used during ERCP procedures have spread infections between patients. Some of these infections have involved antibiotic-resistant bacteria or “superbugs,” causing death in some patients. In these cases, it appears that due to a design defect the device itself could not be cleaned appropriately to prevent such transference
Finally, there is the risk of tearing the gastrointestinal tract. This risk is quite rare, but tears do occur. 19