What would a mechanic be able to do without a wrench? Definitely a lot less than when having one around. For doctors, one of the most helpful “tools of the trade” is the procedure known as endoscopy, which has enabled physicians to diagnose and treat several conditions more efficiently and more accurately ever since the advent of its use in medicine. If it were not around today, dozens of diseases would not be caught at an early stage, and some conditions may even be untreatable.
“Endo-” is a prefix derived from a Greek word which means “within”. Generally speaking, therefore, endoscopy is any procedure wherein a doctor uses a “scope” to look inside our body. It’s quite similar to the x-ray in that sense, since both are imaging techniques, but an endoscopy does not use radiation and provides a more direct visualization. This could be as simple as when the doctor looks inside our ears (in which case it is called an “otoscopy”), or when a long flexible instrument - an “endoscope” - is inserted through the mouth and the esophagus to obtain video images of the esophagus and the stomach, otherwise known as an “upper gastrointestinal (GI) endoscopy”. Presently, a tiny camera placed inside a pill-sized capsule can even be swallowed for the purpose of taking pictures of specific parts of the digestive tract - a procedure known as “capsule endoscopy”.
What is it for? Essentially, endscopy provides doctors with the means to directly visualize certain parts of the body which are otherwise impossible to see without the use of an instrument. Being able to see and inspect an area of the body is fundamental in providing an accurate diagnosis and formulating an appropriate treatment plan. For instance, an upper GI endoscopy is essential in the diagnosis of stomach ulcers and certain precancerous conditions, which, when detected at a primitive stage, can then be treated aggressively.
Furthermore, when needed, an endoscopy also allows the doctor to insert instruments through parts of the scope in order to reach and perform additional procedures in the area of interest. This permits the physician, for example, to obtain a tissue sample from a visualized tumor, or even to stop bleeding in some cases. As such, endoscopies are not only helpful in the diagnosis of disease conditions, but may also be useful in administering treatment itself. In fact, certain surgical procedures nowadays are done “endoscopically”, reducing the need for making otherwise larger incisions, and minimizing other risks that come with traditional surgery. An example is seen in surgical cases of carpal tunnel syndrome wherein treatment could be done through “endoscopic carpal tunnel release”.
Endoscopy has then become an essential part of medicine for two very important reasons. First, it is useful for the detection and accurate diagnosis of various diseases, which would otherwise be quite difficult, if not impossible to assess without the aid of endoscopy. Second, it is also an important tool in the treatment of different conditions, even minimizing the risk of certain surgical procedures. In the end, it is as useful to the doctor as it is as beneficial to the patient, and is one of the indispensable components of modern medicine.