Endoscopy – gastroscopy and capsule endoscopy

  • An endoscopy is a procedure where a gastroenterologist (a doctor who specialises in the digestive system and liver) uses a special camera to inspect the gastrointestinal tract. An endoscopy may be a gastroscopy (which looks inside the beginning of the gastrointestinal tract), a colonoscopy (which looks inside the large bowel), or both. See our fact sheet Endoscopy – colonoscopy.

    A gastroscopy looks at the oesophagus, the stomach and first part of the small bowel, also known as the duodenum. This is done by using a long flexible tube that has a light and a camera on the end, known as a gastroscope.

    A capsule endoscopy is another way of looking at the gastrointestinal tract, in particular the small bowel (small intestine). This involves swallowing a capsule, which is the size of a large jellybean. The capsule contains a camera, which takes photos of the inside of the gastrointestinal tract over a period of 8–12 hours.

    Why does my child need an endoscopy?

    A child may need a gastroscopy to find the cause of gastrointestinal symptoms such as abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, bleeding, growth problems or diarrhoea.

    As well as filming inside the body, the gastroscope is also able to take small samples (biopsies) of tissue from the stomach or bowel.

    The most common use of capsule endoscopy is to look for causes of anaemia or bleeding, often after other tests such as colonoscopy and gastroscopy have been carried out and showed normal results.

    What to expect with a gastroscopy

    Before the procedure

    • You must make sure your child has followed the hospital fasting guidelines correctly, otherwise your child's gastroscopy may be postponed and booked at a later date.
    • Most medicines can be taken as usual, however if you are unsure please speak to your child's gastroenterologist before the gastroscopy.

    During the procedure

    • The gastroscopy is performed under a light general anaesthetic, so your child will be asleep during the whole procedure. This involves medicine being given through a drip into a vein (intravenous or IV therapy).
    • The procedure usually takes around 20 minutes, but may take longer depending on the doctor's findings.

    After the procedure

    • After the gastroscopy, your child can start eating a light diet such as sandwiches, soups and jelly. Your child may return to their usual diet when they feel well enough.
    • Babies can start breastfeeding, drink formula or water as soon as they are awake after the procedure.

    Care at home after a gastroscopy

    Children can usually go home on the same day as the gastroscopy.

    • Following a gastroscopy, your child should rest for the remainder of the day. They should be able to return to their normal activities, including school, the day after the procedure.
    • Young adults must not drive a car, operate machinery or make important decisions on the day of the gastroscopy, due to the anaesthetic.

    Your child may have one or more of the following side effects after the gastroscopy. These usually get better without any special treatment.

    • Nausea and/or vomiting: if your child feels sick, stop them from eating and drinking for half an hour. After this, they can start having sips of clear fluids. Gradually, you can increase what they eat and drink as they start feeling better.
    • Sore throat: if you child is old enough, allow them to suck on throat lozenges. Sipping warm fluids can also help to soothe a sore throat.
    • Bleeding: a small amount of blood might be seen in your child's saliva (spit) after a gastroscopy. This is usually caused by the small samples of tissue (biopsies) taken during the procedure for testing. 
    • Abdominal (tummy) pain and bloating: if your child suffers from abdominal pain and/or bloating, allow them to rest and give them sips of clear fluids until they feel better.
    • Mild pain: can be safely managed at home, but for more severe pain, call the treating hospital or see your GP.

    When to see a doctor

    Call the hospital if your child has:

    • vomited more than three times
    • a vomit with more than 2–3mL (half a teaspoon) of bright red blood
    • severe tummy pain or bloating
    • a high temperature (above 38ºC)
    • difficulty swallowing.

    If you have any other significant concerns after the procedure, you can also contact your GP.

    What to expect with a capsule endoscopy

    If your child needs to have a capsule endoscopy, you will be given a pack with all the information you need about how to prepare for the procedure and what to do afterwards. 

    Before the procedure

    • It is important your child is able to swallow the capsule when the time comes. It is a good idea to practice beforehand using large jellybeans. If the capsule is unable to be swallowed, then it will need to be placed in the stomach during a gastroscopy.
    • Follow the instructions you have been given to prepare your child for the capsule endoscopy. This will involve fasting and some bowel preparation.

    During the procedure

    • Your child will swallow the capsule, and over 8–12 hours the camera inside the capsule will take thousands of photos of the inside of the gastrointestinal tract. The photos are sent to a recorder that is worn over the shoulder. Electrodes are also taped to the chest and abdomen.

    After the procedure

    • You will be given instructions to check that the capsule has been passed. You do not need to collect the capsule after the procedure.

    Key points to remember

    • An endoscopy is a procedure where a special camera is used to inspect the gastrointestinal tract. A gastroscopy looks inside the beginning of the gastrointestinal tract.
    • A gastroscopy is performed under a light general anaesthetic.
    • Your child must follow the hospital fasting guidelines correctly before their gastroscopy.
    • A capsule endoscopy involves swallowing a capsule containing a camera, which takes photos inside the gastrointestinal tract.

    For more information

    Common questions our doctors are asked

    Can a gastroscopy be done without a general anaesthetic on teenagers?  

    Even adults require sedation during a gastroscopy. Older children and teenagers may not need a complete general anaesthetic but will be sedated with medicine that keeps them calm and ensures they have no memory of the test.

    What are the risks of having a capsule endoscopy?

    It is possible (but unlikely) that the capsule can become stuck if there is an unexpected narrowing of the bowel. This will lead to pain and vomiting. If your child experiences these symptoms, it's important you take them to the local hospital emergency department.

    Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital Gastroenterology department and Day Surgery Centre. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.

    Reviewed August 2018.

    This information is awaiting routine review. Please always seek the most recent advice from a registered and practising clinician.

    Kids Health Info is supported by The Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation. To donate, visit www.rchfoundation.org.au


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