Endoscope: A lighted optical instrument that is used to get a deep look inside the body. An endoscope, which may be rigid or flexible, can be used to examine organs, such as the throat or esophagus. Specialized endoscopes are named for where they are intended to look. Examples include the cystoscope (bladder), nephroscope (kidney), bronchoscope(bronchi), laryngoscope (larynx), otoscope (ear), arthroscope (joint), laparoscope (abdomen), and gastrointestinal endoscopes.

Endoscopy means looking inside and typically refers to looking inside the body for medical reasons using an endoscope, an instrument used to examine the interior of a hollow organ or cavity of the body. Unlike most other medical imaging devices, endoscopes are inserted directly into the organ.

There are many different types of endoscope, and depending on the site in the body and the type of procedure, endoscopy may be performed by a doctor or a surgeon, and the patient may be fully conscious or under general anaesthetic. Endoscope can also refer to using a borescope in technical situations where direct line of-sight observation is not feasible.

An endoscopy is often used to confirm a diagnosis when other devices, such as an MRI, X-ray, or CT scan are considered inappropriate.

An endoscopy is often carried out to find out the degree of problems a known condition may have caused. The endoscopy, in these cases, may significantly contribute towards the doctor’s decision on the best treatment for the patient.

The following conditions and illnesses are most commonly investigated or diagnosed with an endoscopy:

  • Breathing disorders
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Incontinence
  • Internal bleeding
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Urinary tract infections.

Endoscopy advances

Advances in technology continue to make endoscopic procedures more comfortable for patients and make it easier for doctors to diagnose a number of different diseases.

Virtual colonoscopy. Virtual colonoscopy is a relatively new tool that is not a true endoscopic technique. Virtual colonoscopy uses computed tomography (CT) scans of thin segments of the colon. These images are joined together by a computer to create a view of the inside of the colon. No endoscope is inserted into the colon, hence the name “virtual.” However, patients having this test still need to follow the same bowel-cleansing procedures as a regular colonoscopy, and they will need a traditional colonoscopy if polyps are found. Virtual endoscopy can also be used to look at the inside of the lungs (virtual bronchoscopy), and research continues on other virtual endoscopic procedures.

Capsule endoscopy. Capsule endoscopy is a procedure that requires the patient to swallow a small capsule the size of a vitamin that contains a camera. The camera captures images of the inside of the esophagus, stomach, and small intestine, which doctors have trouble seeing with endoscopic tubes. The images are sent to a recording device that you wear for approximately eight hours. The doctor then reviews them. Although capsule endoscopy has been around for a while, technological advances continue to be made this area.

Short history of endoscopy

Reports indicate that the first endoscope was devised in 1805. It consisted of a large tube and a candle. Because it was cumbersome and large it had very limited uses. Fiber optics, which appeared in the 1960s, was a major factor in the endoscopy revolution. With fiber optics it really became possible for the doctor to see and record the inside of the patient’s body with a small and relatively painless device.

Endoscopy has many uses today

An endoscope can be fitted with surgical instruments; it can send pulses or heat and electricity and destroy small tumors or gallstones. Specialized endoscopes have their own names, such as:

  • Bronchoscopes – they examine the air passages and the lungs.
  • Colonoscopes – they examine the colon.
  • Gastroscopes – they examine the small intestine, stomach and esophagus (throat).
  • Arthroscopes – they examine the joints.
  • Hysteroscopes – they examine a woman’s uterus.
  • Cystoscopes – they examine the urinary bladder.

Types of endoscopies

Here is a list of some types of endoscopies and their meanings:

  • Amnioscopy – examination of the amniotic cavity and fetus.
  • Arthroscopy – examination of the joints.
  • Bronchoscopy – examination of the air passages and the lungs.
  • Colonoscopy – examination of the colon.
  • Colposcopy – examination of the cervix and the tissues of the vagina and vulva.
  • Cystoscopy – examination of the urinary bladder.
  • EGD (Esophageal Gastroduodenoscopy), also known as panendoscopy – examination of the esophagus, stomach and duodenum.
  • ERCP (endoscopic retrograde cholangio-pancreatography) – examination of the liver, gallbladder, bile ducts, and pancreas.
  • Fetoscopy – examination of the fetus.
  • Laparoscopy – a small incision to examine the abdominal cavity.
  • Laryngoscopy – examination of the back of the throat, including the voice box (larynx) and vocal cords.
  • Proctoscopy – examination of the rectum and the end of the colon.
  • Rhinoscopy – examination of the inside of the nose.
  • Thoracoscopy – examination of the lungs or other structures in the chest cavity.