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Expert Advice to Prevent Gagging During an Endoscopy

Do you have a sensitive gag reflex? This sensitivity can lead to significant difficulties with swallowing pills and tolerating dental work and endoscopic examinations. So, if you’ve been told by your doctor that you need to get an endoscopy done, you may be wondering what to do to avoid gagging during the procedure.

We spoke with Lloyd Perino, MD, a gastroenterologist at Banner Health in Arizona, to better understand what causes us to gag and to discuss ways you can avoid gagging during your endoscopic procedure and reduce your anxiety.

What causes a gag reflex?

The gag reflex, known medically as the pharyngeal reflex, is a contraction of the back of the throat that occurs when certain areas of the inside of the mouth are touched, including the roof of the mouth, back of the tongue or throat, and the area around the tonsils.

How can I avoid gagging during an endoscopy?

The question is a common one, especially from individuals who gag easily or have what is considered a hypersensitive gag reflex.

“Having a hypersensitive gag reflex is generally a conditioned response, meaning it happens after a previous problematic experience. “However, the discomfort related to gagging during an endoscopic procedure can be avoided, particularly by numbing the back of the throat and using sedatives,” said Dr. Perino. “As long as you are adequately sedated, you will not gag.”

If you are concerned about gagging during an endoscopic procedure, talk with your doctor beforehand to understand the whole process and reduce any anxiety you are feeling. Your doctor and his or her staff can discuss ways to increase your overall comfort level.

What to expect during an endoscopy

“All endoscopic procedures involve some degree of sedation, which relaxes you and subdues your gag reflex,” Dr. Perino said. “Being sedated during the procedure will put you into a moderate to deep sleep, so you will not feel any discomfort when the endoscope is inserted through the mouth and into the stomach.”

Moreover, most people undergoing sedation will have some short-term memory loss, so you will not recall the examination itself. This memory loss is very helpful in reducing anxiety about future procedures.

To learn more about endoscopic screenings and procedures, visit bannerhealth.com.

Additional Resources

Gastroenterology Imaging