Diseases That Can Be Detected by Endoscopy

Medically Reviewed By Youssef (Joe) Soliman, MD
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Endoscopy is a procedure to get a close view of the inside of the upper digestive tract. Doctors can diagnose a range of diseases, from acid reflux to esophageal cancer.

“Endoscopy” is short for upper gastrointestinal (GI) endoscopy. This includes the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum — the first part of the small intestine. Other names for upper GI endoscopy include “upper endoscopy” and “esophagogastroduodenoscopy.”

An upper GI endoscopy can help doctors diagnose problems that affect the upper GI tract and nearby structures, including the pancreas and liver. 

Keep reading to learn about conditions the doctors can diagnose with an upper endoscopy

What happens during endoscopy?

healthcare professional looking at computer monitor while performing endoscopy on patient
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Typically, a doctor performs an endoscopy when you are under light sedation, but it may put you to sleep. The procedure involves an endoscope, a flexible instrument with a light and a video camera on the end. 

Your doctor inserts the scope into your mouth and, while viewing on a video screen, glides it down your esophagus to the stomach and beginning of the small intestine. The care team will have additional instruments to collect tissue samples and possibly treat certain conditions.

What diseases can be detected by an upper endoscopy?

Upper GI endoscopy can help doctors detect and diagnose many diseases and structural problems of these organs:

  • esophagus
  • stomach
  • duodenum

Endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) is a separate procedure. It uses ultrasound waves to help doctors evaluate organs beyond the linings of the organs above. EUS can help doctors evaluate the:

  • pancreas
  • liver
  • bile ducts 

Gastroesophageal reflux disease 

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) occurs when gastric acid flows from the stomach into the esophagus. GERD can damage the lining of the esophagus. It also causes Barrett’s esophagus, the growth of atypical cells that can lead to cancer

Your doctor may order an upper GI endoscopy if you have symptoms of GERD. Typical symptoms include:

Doctors perform an upper GI endoscopy with a special light that highlights atypical tissue or growths. If they see something unusual, they take a sample of it with a special instrument. This procedure is an endoscopic biopsy. 

A doctor who specializes in cell and tissue analysis evaluates the sample to determine if the cells within it indicate a disease, such as Barrett’s esophagus. They send a report of the findings to the doctor who performed your endoscopy.

Peptic ulcers

A peptic ulcer is an open sore due to acid that inflames and wears away the tissue lining an area(s) of the upper GI tract. An upper GI endoscopy with a biopsy can help doctors detect inflammation and ulcers inside the:

Inflammation and ulcers are commonly due to Helicobacter pylori infection. Medications called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can also cause ulcers. 

Your doctor may order an endoscopy if you have symptoms of inflammation or ulcer. Typical symptoms include:

  • experiencing nausea
  • vomiting
  • belching
  • bloating
  • burning stomach pain 

Gastrointestinal cancer

Doctors can see ulceration and growths during an upper GI endoscopy. In this case, your doctor will perform a biopsy. Health experts in a pathology lab examine a tissue sample from the biopsy to determine if it is cancerous or noncancerous.

The most common cancer of the upper GI tract is stomach cancer, followed by esophageal cancer.

Your doctor may order an upper GI endoscopy if you have risk factors or symptoms of upper GI cancer. Risks factors include smoking, a family history of cancer, and others. Symptoms include:

Esophageal stricture 

An esophageal stricture is a narrowing of the esophagus. It blocks the typical passage of food and liquids into the stomach. Large pieces of food can even get stuck. There are many possible causes, but GERD is the most common. 

Your doctor may order an upper GI endoscopy if you have the following symptoms:

Your doctor can see the stricture and possibly widen the area during endoscopy. 

Esophageal varices

Esophageal varices are enlarged veins in the walls of the esophagus. They may rupture and bleed. Someone with esophageal varices may vomit blood and have black, tarry, or bloody stools. The loss of blood can be life threatening. There are usually no symptoms until they bleed.

Having liver disease is a major risk factor for esophageal varices. To prevent serious problems, your doctor may recommend an upper GI endoscopy if you have liver disease. Doctors can diagnose and treat varices with endoscopy. It may be an emergency procedure if there is active bleeding.

Pancreatitis

Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas. To investigate a possible cause of unexplained pancreatitis, your doctor may perform an upper endoscopy with an ultrasound transducer on the end of the scope. 

EUS allows a close view of the pancreas and bile ducts. They can also see other nearby structures, such as the liver and gallbladder. EUS can help doctors diagnose these underlying causes of pancreatitis:

Liver disease

EUS can also help doctors evaluate liver disease from inside the stomach and duodenum. Doctors have used EUS for:

  • liver structural anomalies, including blood vessels
  • liver damage, such as from injury
  • bleeding
  • noncancerous liver lesions
  • liver cancer
  • cirrhosis
  • steatosis, which is also known as fatty liver

Additionally, EUS can guide liver biopsies to aid doctors in the diagnosis of liver diseases.

You can read more about endoscopy in these articles:

Frequently asked questions

Youssef Soliman, M.D. reviewed the following questions. 

What organs can be seen on an endoscopy?

With endoscopy, doctors can see the inside of the esophagus, stomach, and the beginning of the small intestine, known as the duodenum. 

Can endoscopy detect gastrointestinal problems?

Yes, upper endoscopy can help doctors detect many kinds of GI problems of the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum. Conditions include ulcers, bleeding, and cancer. Colonoscopy is a type of endoscopy that helps doctors examine the lower part of the GI tract for signs of disease.

Can endoscopy detect pancreatic problems?

Yes, a form of endoscopy known as EUS can help doctors evaluate for various underlying causes of pancreatitis, such as stones in the bile ducts and gallstones. 

Can endoscopy detect liver problems?

Yes, EUS can help doctors diagnose liver diseases such as:

  • bleeding blood vessels
  • noncancerous versus cancerous liver lesions
  • cirrhosis

Summary

Upper GI endoscopy is a versatile medical procedure. Doctors use it to detect, diagnose, and manage numerous conditions. Common diagnoses include GERD, ulcers, and varices.

Using a scope with ultrasound, or EUS, physicians can evaluate you for pancreatitis, liver cancer, and gallstones. Endoscopy can also guide biopsies within the upper GI tract or nearby structures.

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Medical Reviewer: Youssef (Joe) Soliman, MD
Last Review Date: 2022 Oct 4
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