Digestive Health Matters

The digestive system is an often overlooked part of overall health. As a result, gastrointestinal (GI) diseases like cancers can develop undetected. Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in the United States. A surgeon or gastroenterologist will perform a colonoscopy or upper endoscopy to check a patient’s digestive tract. Both procedures are similar in objective but have distinct differences in application.

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Reasons for a GI procedure

A colonoscopy and upper endoscopy can identify and even treat conditions in the digestive system. For instance, if a patient has had constant digestive symptoms, the procedures can reveal illnesses like Crohn's or ulcerative colitis. More importantly, these procedures can correct polyps, stop bleeding or help screen for cancers. Doctors perform over 19 million colonoscopies and endoscopies every year.

Understanding colonoscopies

A colonoscopy is a minimally invasive procedure to assess and treat issues in the large intestine, including the colon and rectum. The doctor will use a colonoscope, a snake-like tool with a light and camera. The colonoscope also has surgical instruments available if the doctor needs to remove polyps. Most doctors recommend a colonoscopy from age 45. The procedure takes less than 30 minutes and can be life-saving.

What should you expect during the colonoscopy?

A colonoscopy is an outpatient GI procedure popular in ambulatory surgical centers (ASC). Before the procedure, the doctor will prescribe a laxative to clear the colon, usually the day before the exam. The patient will need to fast during this time as well. Next, a nurse gives the patient a mild sedative, and then the doctor inserts the scope into the colon. The colonoscope projects the image on a screen as the doctor slowly inspects the area. The doctor can remove growths or treat an issue that's causing bleeding. A sample will be sent to a lab for cancer screening if necessary.

An upper endoscopy

Like a colonoscopy, the upper endoscopy is a minimally invasive screening procedure. The procedure checks the upper part of the digestive tract, including the esophagus, stomach, and small intestine. An upper endoscopy is helpful when the patient has more apparent symptoms like chronic pain, bleeding, nausea or vomiting. In addition, the procedure may bring relief when medication fails or help screen for cancers.

It's time for the procedure

The upper endoscopy can happen at a conventional hospital or ASC. Patients will need to fast for roughly 8-12 hours before the procedure. An upper endoscopy starts with the patient under general anesthesia. Next, the doctor inserts the scope through the mouth, which heads down to the esophagus. After reviewing the esophagus, the doctor checks the stomach and small intestine. If the doctor detects an issue, an additional tool can treat or take samples accordingly.

Get a gut check

A colonoscopy and upper endoscopy are outpatient procedures, meaning the patient can leave the same day. A healthcare professional can provide essential information to treat discomfort or side effects in the following days. Both exams assess and treat the digestive system but from different entryways. More importantly, these GI procedures can detect dangerous cancers so specialists can develop a treatment plan.