Welcome to the new Independent website. We hope you enjoy it and we value your feedback. Please contact us here.

Health A-Z

Endoscopy: something to fear?

I am due to have an endoscopy to discover the cause of stomach pains. The pains seem like indigestion, but are intermittent. Food doesn't make the pain better or worse - in fact, it seems unrelated to eating. My greatest fear is the endoscopy - I can't bear the thought of a flexible telescope being shoved down my throat. Will I be put to sleep?

Dr Fred Kavalier answers your health question:

An endoscopy is an examination with a thin, flexible fibreoptic viewing device, to see inside the body. Upper gastrointestinal endoscopies see the oesophagus and stomach. Lower-end endoscopies - colonoscopies - see the large intestine. The small intestine is not easy to see with an endoscope, but luckily, the small intestine doesn't usually cause as much trouble as the stomach and large intestine.

If you are having an upper endoscopy, the nurse or doctor doing the investigation will probably spray the back of your throat with a horrid-tasting anaesthetic. You will then be given an injection of a sedative. This is not a general anaesthetic, but it makes you sufficiently drowsy that you are not likely to be aware of what is happening. The drug also has an amnesic effect, so even if you are partially awake, you are unlikely to remember anything. Afterwards you will have a sore throat, but most people are back to normal within a day.

For colonoscopies the procedure is much the same. A day or two before a colonoscopy, you have to take a strong laxative to ensure your colon is empty. Most people say that this is the worst part.

Please mail your questions for Dr Fred to health@independent.co.uk. He regrets that he is unable to respond personally to questions.