Endoscopy alternatives

Alternatives to Traditional Endoscopy

Traditional endoscopy involves a length of tubing with a light and a camera on the tip (known as an endoscope). Depending on which end of the gastrointestinal tract is being investigated, the endoscope will be send through the mouth or the rectum. Although a sedative and local anesthetic is used, this can still be an uncomfortable and embarrassing procedure.

While the risks are very low, there is still a chance of infection, bleeding, and intestinal tissue tearing, which can make some people very nervous. Additionally, no matter which way you enter, it is almost impossible to investigate the small intestine this way, as upper endoscopy only reaches the duodenum (the opening at the base of the stomach), and a colonoscopy only goes through the colon. For these reasons, alternatives may be desired. 

Capsule Endoscopy

For this method, you swallow a camera the size of a large pill and attach a sort of receiver that the camera sends pictures to. After eight hours, you return to the doctor, who removes the receiver, and then you wait to pass the camera. This is extremely effective when something is awry in the small intestine, as the camera takes pictures of it as it passes through.

Most people have no discomfort with a capsule endoscopy, and the biggest risk comes in the form of an obstruction. This occurs when the camera gets stuck somewhere in the intestines and blocks everything up behind it. As long as you know the signs of an obstruction, you should feel pretty comfortable utilizing this method. 

Barium Study

In the case of an upper endoscopy, doctors are looking at or treating problems in the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum. If you are completely opposed to this procedure, the alternative is a barium study. In this method, you swallow liquid barium, which is a chalky substance. A series of X-rays are taken, which track the path of the barium. Some abnormalities can be seen in this manner, but it is not as effective as endoscopy. If additional treatments are planned at the same time or a biopsy is necessary, this is not a good alternative. 

Colonoscopy Alternatives

Colonoscopies are important because the cancers they identify usually progress very slowly, which means they can very commonly be dealt with before they cause any problems. Unfortunately, not everyone participates in these screenings, due to the uncomfortable nature of the procedure. Luckily, several alternatives are being scrutinized closer.

Two of the most common of these are the fecal immunochemical test (FIT), which looks for abnormalities in the stool and the Stool DNA test (sDNA), which also looks for abnormalities, as well as blood in the feces. Additional, similar tests are being developed, further researched, and considered as serious alternatives to colonoscopies. 

Last Updated: June 27, 2016