Upper GI: Did You Know?

  • During an upper endoscopy, your doctor will pass an endoscope through your mouth. But the light, flexible devise doesn’t interfere with your breathing. Most patients consider the test slightly uncomfortable, but not painful. Your doctor might spray your throat with a local anesthetic or give you a sedative to help you relax. Recovery time is minimal, but you may experience some bloody saliva or a sore throat. You’ll be able to eat and drink immediately after you leave unless your doctor instructs otherwise.
  • You may be able to blame that painful, burning sensation behind your chest on more than last night’s meatball sub. Other factors can contribute to chronic heartburn other than spicy food and late night snacks, although those trigger-foods certainly don’t help matters. Heartburn is more common in people with a hiatal hernia, where part of the stomach protrudes into the chest cavity. It can also be heightened by pregnancy. But ongoing heartburn can also be GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), a condition in which food or liquid travels backwards from the stomach to the esophagus.
  • If you have recently been diagnosed with GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), you don’t have to rely on medications and multiple trips to the doctor to provide you with relief. In fact, a look inside your medicine cabinet may lead you to discover the cause for your symptoms in the first place. Many medications have been linked with GERD, including:
    • Beta blockers for high blood pressure or heart disease
    • Anti-depressants
    • Sedatives for anxiety or insomnia
    • Dopamine-active drugs for Parkinson’s Disease
    • Seasickness pills
    • Progestin for abnormal menstrual bleeding or even birth control pills Check with your doctor before making any changes.
  • Eating smaller meals, staying active every day and eliminating cigarettes can do more than whittle a few inches from your waistline. These get-healthy moves can also ease the symptoms of chronic heartburn. Obesity increases abdominal pressure, which can push stomach contents up into the esophagus. Even losing just 10 to 15 pounds can cause some people’s symptoms to disappear completely. Switching to smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day puts less pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), decreasing food reflux. And when it comes to smoking, quitting makes sense because the chemicals in the tobacco weaken the LES.
  • Since the very early stages of esophageal cancer can show no symptoms, early diagnosis can be elusive. And currently, there aren’t any tests used to screen for esophageal cancer in the general population. But people who have a high risk of the disease should be screened regularly with an upper endoscopy. Who’s at risk? People with Barrett’s esophagus, a condition in which the tissue lining the esophagus is replaced by tissue that is similar to the lining of the intestine, are considered high risk, as are heavy smokers, heavy drinkers, people who are obese and people with damage from frequent acid reflux.
  • Even though people with esophageal ulcers, Barrett’s Esophagus disorder or GERD are at higher risk for developing esophageal cancer, these diseases don’t necessarily lead to cancer. This cancer is not common, with 13,000 men and 3,500 women getting diagnosed every year. However, the incidence of esophageal cancer is increasing more rapidly than any form of internal cancer in the world. Early esophageal cancer usually does not cause symptoms, so diagnosis is difficult. However, as the cancer grows, symptoms may include painful or difficult swallowing, weight loss and coughing up blood. To be sure, every adult over the age of 40 with chronic esophagus-related conditions should be screened on a regular basis.
  • Experiencing some random upper GI problems can mean it is time to schedule an upper endoscopy to determine the cause. An upper endoscopy can help doctors determine the source of their patients’ abdominal pain, vomiting and nausea, anemia, unexplained weight loss and difficulties swallowing. So don’t suffer in silence if you are experiencing any of these problems. Schedule a visit with your doctor to determine the root of any upper GI problems.
  • Heartburn and heart pain are different but can feel dangerously the same. When you feel pain after a meal, it’s probably just heartburn — but don’t discount it as it might be a heart attack warning sign. How do you know if it’s your heart? Warning signs may include chest pain along with shortness of breath, dizziness and sweating; pain spreading to the back, neck, jaw, shoulders or arms (especially the left arm); and any sudden tightening or pressure in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes. But heartburn symptoms may seem the same. So when in doubt, seek medical attention.
  • You don’t have to wait forever to discover the results of your upper GI endoscopy. In fact, if results are ready, expect your doctor to share them with you as soon as your sedative wears off before you head home after the procedure. However, if a biopsy is needed during the procedure, it will be a few days before the results will be available.
  • Risks associated with upper GI endoscopy are extremely rare. However, like any procedure that includes a sedative, patients can experience an abnormal reaction to the medicine. Rarely patients experience bleeding if a biopsy is conducted at the same time, and even more rarely there can be an accidental puncture of the GI tract. And though a sore throat occasionally occurs, patients should contact their doctor immediately if they experience:
    • Vomiting
    • Fever
    • Bloody or dark bowel movements
    • Problems swallowing
    • Throat, chest or abdominal pain that worsens over time.

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