Serious endoscopy complications are rare but include perforation of internal orifices, heart attack, and over-sedation. Minor complications from the procedure are more common, with about one-third of patients reporting bleeding, abdominal pain, or chest pain, according to a 2010 study. Endoscopy complications are more common in the elderly and within two weeks of the procedure.
The study found that minor endoscopy complications were two to three times higher than previously estimated. It examined emergency room visits after endoscopy and found about one-third of visits were related to these procedures. Previous estimates relied on doctors’ reporting endoscopy complications, which were estimated at seven percent. The study found the number of serious complications was lower than previously believed.
Endoscopy involves medical imaging devices outfitted with a flexible tube and camera. They are used to view inside the body for abnormalities that can sometimes be treated via the equipment. Upper endoscopy allows a view of the esophagus, stomach, and first section of the small intestine. It can detect ulcers and internal bleeding that causes anemia and tumors. Growths, called polyps, can be removed during the procedure, or a small sample of tissue can be excised for biopsy.
Lower endoscopy examines the rectum, large intestine, and colon for abnormalities. Other forms of the procedure look at the vaginal tract and the urinary tract. The devices can detect inflammation, infection, and cancer. Arthroscopy is used when a disorder of the joints may be present.
Balloon endoscopy employs one or two balloons to inflate the internal cavity with air. It makes insertion of the fiber optic device easier and aids in removing and cauterizing tissue to reduce excessive bleeding. This type of endoscopy is considered lengthy and commonly takes between one and three hours.
Attempts to view inside the human body were made in the early 1900s via a rigid telescopic device. A partially flexible device was created in the 1930s for examining the contents of a patient’s stomach. A South African doctor invented the first fiber optic endoscope in 1957 that used glass or plastic fibers to transmit pulses of light. The endoscope eliminates the need for some exploratory surgeries to diagnose disease.
Although endoscopy complications are fairly common, the benefits generally outweigh the risks of the technique. The procedure allows early detection of some cancers, which can be treated before they spread to other parts of the body. It also permits diagnosis of gastrointestinal disorders that might respond to medication.