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Tummy Trouble: Advanced Medical Techniques That Gut It Out

John Bankston John Bankston April 25, 2021
Medically reviewed by Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen

Sometimes small pains are early indicators. Maybe you are having problems swallowing. Perhaps your once-occasional bouts of heartburn or acid reflux have suddenly increased in severity. If you’ve been experiencing these symptoms, stomach pain, or a fizzy tummy for longer than a few days, you should speak with a healthcare professional. There are ways to determine if the underlying cause is just a reason to change your diet or could be potentially life threatening. Numerous nonsurgical options are available for diagnosis and treatment of tummy trouble.


Colonoscopy and Upper Endoscopy (EGD)


Like cellphones and automobile nav systems, endoscopic medical devices gained widespread use during the computer age. Yet using a flexible tube to look into the hidden areas of our bodies traces to the early 1800s. Over 200 years ago, scientists began developing instruments that resembled modern endoscopes. In 1853, French urologist Antonin Jean Desormeaux developed an open-tube endoscope for examinations of the bladder and urethra. Debuting his new device to the Academy of Science in 1853, he called it “l’endoscopie.”


In 1901, George Kelling began endoscopically examining the peritoneal cavity in a procedure he dubbed the “celioscopy.” Although laparoscopy became a widely accepted gynecological procedure, it wasn’t until 1986 and the arrival of video computer chips that allowed images to be magnified and projected onto monitors that laparoscopic surgery became an accepted part of general surgery. Today’s endoscopes feature lights and cameras. Probably the most familiar of diagnostic tools (and one of the most invasive) is the colonoscopy. It can help your doctor discover and remove colon polyps––which, left untreated, can lead to colon cancer. Today, artificial intelligence and automatic polyp detection systems are improving detection. Colonoscopies are generally used for diagnosis and treatment of conditions affecting the colon, ileum (the bottom section of the small intestine), and the rectum. The American Cancer Society recommends  colorectal cancer screening for people over the age of 45; the colonoscopy remains the only way to examine the inside of the entire colon.


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Colonoscopy - Procedure Explained

Colonoscopy - Procedure Explained

Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)


A tongue twister of a procedure, the ERCP is focused on issues connected to your pancreatic and bile ducts––usually gallstones. ECRP can help uncover a host of problems that might obstruct your ducts along with infections or abnormalities. The doctor will guide an endoscope down your throat to the esophagus, stomach, and the first part of the small intestine. Not only will the doctor be able to see inside these organs, but after injecting a dye, they will be highlighted on an X-ray. This is usually recommended after safer, less invasive procedures like MRIs are unable to reveal the source of your discomfort. 


Another procedure relying on an imaging scope is the upper endoscopy or EGD. As the name suggests, the focus here is on your upper gastrointestinal tract. That means your doctor will be looking at the stomach and the first portions of the small intestine. Issues affecting your esophagus can also be addressed.  Besides general stomach pain or heartburn, this procedure can help diagnose ulcers, infections, and autoimmune/allergic disorders.


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Upper Endoscopy - Overview

Upper Endoscopy - Overview

Endoscopic Ultrasound (EUS)


Although an endoscope is also used for this procedure, sound, not sight, is utilized. Using the same tech that reveals a fetus’s features, EUS relies on a tiny ultrasound device called a transducer. It creates sound waves to form a precise image. EUS is often a “second opinion”––validating data from earlier CT scans, MRIs, or other endoscopic procedures.  Your doctor may recommend this procedure if you’ve been having issues connected to esophagus, stomach, pancreas, or numerous other areas of the gastrointestinal tract. It can also discover problems that may be missed during a biopsy.


Capsule Enteroscopy


Borrowing a page from 1966’s Fantastic Voyage or the “Drastic Voyage” episode of Archer, this sends a camera the size of a multivitamin into your gullet. Using microelectronic technology, it takes a couple of pictures every second over the course of a normal eight-hour day. After being downloaded, your doctor gets a “real-time” movie of your small intestine. While it probably won’t get any Oscar nominations, this film lets your healthcare provider see any issues in your small intestine that might help diagnose your stomach pain. Plus, for most people it’s way more comfy than endoscopic procedures, however it is usually performed only after a condition is not diagnosed via an EGD or colonoscopy and a small intestinal cause is suspected. 


If you have an upset stomach, pain, or bloating that lasts for more than a few days, you should get in touch with a healthcare professional. Finding the cause of your discomfort will help you decide what measures to take to improve your symptoms.

Doctor Profile

John Bankston


John Bankston is a published author of over 150 nonfiction books for children and young adults including biographies of Jonas Salk, Gerhard Domak, and Frederick Banting.

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