Upper Endoscopy: What to Expect

I never thought I would need an endoscopy before the recommended age of 50 – but then again, I never predicted any of my struggles with chronic illness.

When my mom found out she might have celiac disease, I needed to know if I was at risk. My gastroenterologist first recommended a blood test to check for IgA and IgG antibodies – which is pretty standard for celiac screening.

However, my gastro also recommended an upper endoscopy, a scope that would go down my throat and into my small intestine. There, my doctor would take a biopsy to confirm or deny the findings of my blood tests.

“How does that sound?” my doctor asked.

“Fine,” I squeaked, completely lying.

Nothing about this felt fine! How could it? My doctor was about to slide a narrow, lighted tube DOWN MY THROAT AND INTO MY INTESTINES.

The panic continued through the morning of the procedure. I literally shook as the nurse inserted the IV line into my arm for my anaesthesia.

“You won’t remember a thing,” one nurse told me. (I didn’t believe her.)

“You’ll want to come back next week!” said another. (Still wasn’t buying it.)

I remained skeptical until the moment I was sitting in the recovery room, my anaesthesia slowly wearing off as I giggled woozily through the results of my procedure.

While I won’t spoil the ending just yet, I will say that seeing pictures of my small intestine….was, I admit, actually pretty rad.

The Upper Endoscopy

The type of procedure I had was called an upper endoscopy. A colonoscopy is, technically, also a type of endoscopy, though it differs in that a colonoscopy – quite literally – enters through the opposite end. The doctor inserts the tube up your anus (yes, your butthole) and uses the camera to view your large intestine, or colon.

In the type of procedure I had, the doctor inserts a thin, lighted tube through your mouth, down your throat and into your small intestine. This allows your doctor to view, image and take biopsies (if necessary) of the esophagus, stomach and duodenum, the upper portion of your small intestine.

During this procedure, I was in a “deep sleep,” meaning I have virtually no memory of the procedure beyond the moment the anesthesiologist injected the sedative. However, my research tells me that some endoscopies are performed with partial sedation, which relaxes you for the procedure without putting you to sleep.

My advice? If you need an upper endoscopy, talk to your doctor about which option is best for you!

The Experience

As a patient, my experience with the upper endoscopy procedure began the night before. I could not eat for eight hours before the procedure, meaning I went to bed hungry and skipped breakfast the next day. I also could not drink – not even a small sip of water – and had to wait to take my daily medications after the procedure.

In the morning, I checked into the office with my boyfriend, David, who served as my designated driver for the day of the procedure. (Because of the sedation, my doctor would not release me from the office’s care without a driver present.) We waited for approximately an hour longer than my scheduled procedure time, since the office was running behind.

Two nurses escorted me into the procedure room, which was basically a small hospital wing (or large doctor’s office, depending on your perspective!). I had my own semi-private recovery room with a curtain, in which I was told to undress from the waist up and remove my shoes. In place of my shirt and bra, I put on a hospital gown to prepare for the procedure.

My nurses worked quickly to insert IV fluids, despite the fact that I was shaking. They also placed a pulse monitor on my pointer finger and took my heart rate and blood pressure, as well as my weight.

Then, the anesthesiologist – a nurse practitioner in my case, though yours may be a doctor – entered the room to introduce herself. She determined the best sedative to use and inserted another IV line through which the medication would be injected.

Before I had time to panic any further, the nurses immediately wheeled me into the procedure room. Inside, I waved hello to my doctor before being asked to roll onto my left side. The nurse asked me to bite down on a small mouthpiece, which is used to help the doctor insert the camera.

That’s the last thing I remember before waking up in my recovery room to discover that yes, I do NOT have celiac disease! The anesthesia acted immediately, so as soon as it was injected, I fell straight into a deep sleep and did not awake until my boyfriend came to hear my results from my doctor.

So, it turns out I don’t have celiac disease. To some, this may have meant the procedure was a waste – but to me? I’m just relieved to know the truth about my symptoms once-and-for-all – especially after learning of my high genetic risk for celiac on my blood test results.

That, and I was pretty darn excited to see some pictures of my small intestine. And yes, they’re just as gross – and lovely – as you’re probably expecting!

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