A gastroscope is a medical device specifically designed to allow a visual inspection of sections of the digestive tract without the need for conventional surgery. Like a colonoscope, it is a type of endoscope, that is a long tube equipped with a miniature real-time video camera (and light) and with remotely operated surgical tools to allow some small procedures to be carried out during the gastroscopy examination itself. These procedures include taking biopsies - tissue samples - for laboratory analysis or stemming bleeding from an ulcer.
Gastroscopies are used to diagnose conditions affecting the oesophagus, the stomach and the duodenum that may be indicated by symptoms such as unexplained vomiting, abdominal pain and bleeding in the digestive tract.
There is no specific preparation for a gastroscopy other than fasting. Patients should have no solid food for 6 hours prior to their procedure, however clear fluids may be continued until 2 hours before the procedure.
A light anaesthetic is given prior to the procedure and a local anaesthetic may be applied to the back of the throat to minimise any gag reflex as the gastroscope is fed into the digestive tract via the mouth. A gastroscopy normally takes less than 10 minutes.
Once the anaesthetic has worn off, patients are kept under observation for around two hours before being allowed to leave. Due to the effects of the anaesthetic, patients must not drive themselves home and cannot drive the following day either. Patients may return to work the following day however it is advisable not to schedule any important meetings or decisions the day after the procedure.
Having a gastroscopy is a very low risk procedure. Although rare, the risks include:
- Internal bleeding.
- Gastro-intestinal perforation – damage to oesophagus, stomach or duodenum.