Explore This Procedure

About This Procedure

Specialists in the Massachusetts General Hospital Digestive Healthcare Center use state-of-the-art endoscopic procedures to help diagnose conditions in the esophagus, stomach and beginning of the small intestine, including:

  • Achalasia
  • Barrett’s esophagus
  • Celiac disease
  • Chronic abdominal pain
  • Chronic cough
  • Chronic heartburn
  • Dysphagia
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Esophageal motility disorders
  • Chronic gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Laryngo-pharyngeal reflux disease (LPR)
  • Noncardiac chest pain
  • Premalignant lesions
  • Postsurgical esophageal symptoms
  • Ulcer disease

An upper gastrointestinal endoscopy is a safe, minimally invasive procedure performed by a specially trained endoscopist. An endoscope, or scope, is a thin, flexible tube with a lens and a light source at the end, which allows images to be sent to a monitor for close inspection of the lining of the upper gastrointestinal tract.

Endoscopes used at Mass General incorporate high-definition optics and special light modification to optimize detection of conditions such as Barrett's esophagus and any associated abnormality.

What Happens During an Upper Endoscopy?

The endoscopist applies numbing medication to the back of the patient’s throat with a spray application or asks the patient to gargle with numbing fluid. Medication is administered intravenously, or through an IV, to provide gentle sedation. The patient should feel comfortable during this procedure.

The endoscopist then passes a scope through the mouth and into the esophagus, the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach, carefully evaluating the lining of the esophagus, stomach and duodenum (beginning of the small intestine) for ulcers and growths.

The endoscopist may take a small tissue sample, or biopsy, to test for abnormal cells. The specialist may also decide to remove growths detected during the endoscopy.

The procedure typically requires 15 to 20 minutes.

Endoscopic procedures, such as Endoscopic Mucosal Resection (EMR) and Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA), may be used to treat conditions of the esophagus, stomach and small intestine.

What Preparation Is Required Before an Upper Endoscopy?

The patient will be asked to not eat or drink anything after midnight the night before the procedure. If the patient takes daily medication in the form of a pill, he/she may take it with sips of water the morning of the endoscopy.

What Is the Recovery Time?

After the procedure the patient will be taken to a recovery room, where the sedation should wear off in 30 to 45 minutes. During this time the patient will be visited by members of the care team.

Patients should not drive for 24 hours after undergoing the endoscopy procedure. We ask that the patient prearrange for a family member or friend to take him/her home.

In most cases patients are able to return to work the next day.

How Safe Is the Procedure?

Endoscopy is a safe and well-tolerated procedure. Gastroenterologists at Mass General have been performing endoscopies for more than 30 years and perform more than 9,000 upper gastrointestinal endoscopies each year.

Complications are uncommon (the risk is less than 1%), but include bleeding and perforation, or damage to the esophageal lining.