If you're experiencing unusual but non-specific symptoms like bloating, heartburn or tummy pain, it can be hard to pinpoint a cause without further investigation.
Your doctor can help you work out what's going on. Here are 4 of the main methods for diagnosing digestive conditions.
You can also speak to a gastroenterologist to find out which test is most suitable for your needs.
A gastroscopy checks your food pipe, stomach and upper part of the small intestine (duodenum) for abnormalities. This minimally invasive procedure uses a thin, flexible camera, which is inserted through your mouth into your stomach and duodenum, to diagnose problems and take tissue samples.
Your doctor may recommend a gastroscopy to:
Anyone with unexplained stomach symptoms or persistent heartburn may need a gastroscopy. Your doctor may also suggest the procedure if you've swallowed a foreign object by accident, or if you have small non-cancerous or cancerous growths that need to be removed from your stomach.
Your doctor may use a mild sedative to relax you before inserting the thin camera down your throat, down to your stomach and duodenum. You'll be lying on your side during the procedure, which lasts about 5 – 15 minutes.
You'll need an empty stomach for the procedure, so you shouldn't eat anything for up to 8 hours before or drink anything for up to 3 hours before. Speak to your doctor in advance if you're taking blood thinners or medication for diabetes.
A colonoscopy checks your large intestine for any abnormality or disease. During the procedure, your doctor will gently guide a thin, lighted camera through your rectum into your colon to look inside your large intestine.
Your doctor may recommend a colonoscopy to:
Anyone with unexplained lower intestinal symptoms may need a colonoscopy to rule out anything serious. However, if you're over the age of 50, you should have regular colon cancer screening even if you don't have any symptoms, as the risk of cancer increases with age.
You will be lying on your side for most of the procedure, with your knees up close to your chest. You'll usually be given a mild sedative to help relax your body, though you may not be fully asleep.
After the camera is inserted, your doctor will gently inflate the intestine so as to get a clear view. Your doctor may also take some tissue samples for microscopic analysis if necessary.
On average, you should expect the colonoscopy to last anywhere between 20 – 45 minutes.
Your doctor will give you clear instructions to follow before your colonoscopy. You may be allowed to consume only a liquid diet before the procedure. You may also need to take a laxative or use an enema to flush out the waste (fecal matter) in your colon before the procedure.
Before going in for a colonoscopy procedure, here are several things you need to do:
A capsule endoscopy is a diagnostic procedure that involves swallowing a small pill (the 'capsule') with a tiny camera inside, which takes images of your digestive system (mainly the small intestines) as it passes through. This test may be recommended by your doctor if your small bowel needs to be evaluated.
Your doctor may recommend a capsule endoscopy to:
You may need a capsule endoscopy if you require evaluation of the small intestines.
You won't feel any pain while the capsule passes through your intestines. During the process, you will have a small recording device strapped to you, to record the corresponding images as the capsule passes down the small intestines. You will need to wear this device for around 8 hours.
Your doctor will advise you on the dietary restrictions, period of fasting and how to prepare your small intestines for the procedure. It is important that you follow this advice as closely as possible in order for the capsule to record images with optimal visualisation.
Endoscopic ultrasound uses ultrasound waves to take pictures of your internal organs. Like an endoscopy, the ultrasound device will be guided into your body on the tip of a thin, flexible camera.
Endoscopic ultrasound is not a first-line investigation to diagnose common stomach or intestinal conditions.
Your doctor may recommend an endoscopic ultrasound to:
As the ultrasound device takes pictures of organs you usually wouldn't see with a traditional endoscopy (e.g. your lungs, pancreas, liver or gall bladder), it's not a first-line tool to diagnosis common stomach or intestine conditions. Your doctor may suggest this procedure:
Depending on your suspected condition, the camera may need to be inserted through your mouth to the stomach and duodenum, or up your rectum and into your large intestine. Your doctor will give you a sedative for procedure which can last from 30 – 90 minutes.
Before the procedure, your doctor will advise you how to prepare for the procedure. Speak to your doctor if you're taking blood thinners or medication for diabetes.
If you'd like to scope out your digestive health, make an appointment with a specialist!