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6 Common Myths about Endoscopy

 An endoscopy is a minimally invasive medical procedure that involves inserting an endoscope—a long, thin tube with a camera—into your body to examine your tissues or internal organs. Normally, the endoscope is inserted through natural openings like your mouth, but your doctor can make small incisions in other parts of your body such as your abdomen or knees for the tube to pass through.

Doctors often recommend an endoscopy to investigate symptoms or confirm a diagnosis, but such procedures can also be used as a form of treatment. For instance, an endoscopy may be administered to remove polyps or cauterise bleeding vessels. Some endoscopies can even be administered together with other procedures such as ultrasound scans.

There are various types of endoscopy procedures, including upper endoscopy (for the inner lining of your digestive tract) and colonoscopy (for checking your bowels).  The latter happens to be quite common, and it’s often used to diagnose and preemptively treat colorectal cancer by removing potentially harmful polyps. With this, colonoscopies can be life-saving procedures since they help prevent the worsening of colorectal cancer—the United States’ second most common cancer death and the leading type of cancer in Singapore.

That said, there are some myths about endoscopies that many people still believe. In this article, we’ll debunk these myths to give you some insight into what exactly these procedures are all about.

Myth 1: Endoscopies Require Lengthy Stays at the Hospital

Most endoscopies are outpatient procedures, which means that patients are allowed to go home within the day. After the procedure, your doctor will stitch up your incision wounds and give you tips on how to treat them. Then, you will likely stay at the hospital for up to two hours to rest your body and wait for the sedative effects to die down.

Myth 2: Endoscopies Are Painful

For the most part, endoscopies are not painful. Often, doctors will give patients an anaesthetic or a light sedative to prevent discomfort during the procedure. For colonoscopies, you might feel some cramping or pressure, mostly due to the air used to expand your colon to give way for analyses. Most likely, you won’t remember going through the procedure at all.

However, some procedures might result in discomfort for a few days. An upper gastrointestinal tract (GI) endoscopy, for instance, might leave you with a sore throat and require you to eat soft foods over the next few days. Some cystoscopies (endoscopy for the bladder via your urethra) may also cause blood in your urine over the next 24 hours. These side effects typically go away on their own, but you can always consult your doctor for treatment tips, especially if the symptoms persist.

Myth 3: The Preparation Is Too Hard

For endoscopies, especially colonoscopies, patients are advised to drink a solution for bowel preparation. This solution is meant to induce your bowel movements and clear out your colon. In recent years, bowel prep solutions underwent changes to become better-tasting than the ones used in the past. Prep solutions are typically flavourless, but some doctors recommend mixing them with soda for a more palatable taste. Drinking bowel prep solutions are important since they help ensure a clear overview of your colon so that doctors won't miss any potential cancerous growths.

Myth 4: Endoscopies Are Risky

Endoscopies are generally safe, but there are extremely rare cases of perforation that may require surgery. For instance, it’s possible that the endoscope used for a colonoscopy might puncture your rectum, intestine, or colon. Still, it should be noted that these scenarios are highly unlikely. One study suggests that the risks of perforation are 4 per 10,000 while the risks of major haemorrhage are 8 per 10,000.

Rectal bleeding is another rare occurrence that might follow a colonoscopy and the removal of a polyp. However, this symptom is often very minor and goes away on its own after a few days.

Myth 5: Endoscopies Are Embarrassing

A reputable hospital with a trusted medical staff would know how to be respectful and professional when it comes to procedures of this nature. Other than that, the doctors, nurses, and staff have likely done endoscopies numerous times, enough to understand the need for patient discretion. These professionals are comprehensively trained to prioritise your privacy, comfort, and well-being, especially with sensitive medical procedures.

Myth 6: Only Men Need Endoscopies

Endoscopies, particularly colonoscopies, are often linked to older men. Although it’s true that colorectal cancer is more prevalent among men, that doesn’t mean women should pass on colonoscopies already. Colorectal cancer is still a common condition, and colonoscopies will help men and women stay on top of their health and regularly check for signs of cancer.

In addition, there are other types of endoscopies that women may benefit from. Hysteroscopy, which is meant to examine the womb, helps doctors investigate symptoms such as pelvic pain, postmenopausal bleeding, heavy periods, fertility-related complications, and fibroids or polyps in the womb.

The Bottom Line: Endoscopies are Safe and Essential

All in all, endoscopies are safe procedures that are unlikely to bring you severe pain and discomfort. They can be done quickly and are vital for investigating, confirming, and treating issues with your internal organs. Sometimes, your doctor might schedule subsequent check-ups after the procedure to monitor signs of side effects such as fever, bleeding, or pain. Overall, endoscopies shouldn’t be a cause for concern. Rather, they should be thought of as wise preventative measures for potentially life-threatening complications.

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