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When Your Child Needs an Endoscopy, A Parent Guide

It’s completely normal to have a range of emotions and questions when your child is scheduled for an endoscopy. The idea of any medical procedure, especially one that involves your little one, can be understandably anxiety-inducing. 

However, it’s important to recognize that pediatric endoscopies are common, safe and often necessary for diagnosing and treating many gastrointestinal (GI) issues in children.  

With the help of Swati Kolpuru, MD, a pediatric gastroenterologist with Banner Children’s, we answer the most common questions about pediatric endoscopies and offer practical tips for preparation and recovery.

What is pediatric endoscopy?

Pediatric endoscopy is a nonsurgical procedure used to diagnose and, in some cases, treat certain conditions. 

“With endoscopy, we use an endoscope – a long, flexible tube with a tiny camera and light at its end – to see the lining of the GI tract and take samples (called biopsies) and photos,” Dr. Kolpuru said.

Your child is put to sleep (general anesthesia) for the procedure. They may feel sleepy after waking up, but most children feel fine after a nap and return to normal activities.

Why would my child need a pediatric endoscopy?

There are many reasons your child may need an endoscopy. These include:

There are different types of pediatric endoscopies, each serving a specific purpose. The two most common types used in pediatrics are upper and lower endoscopy.

“An upper endoscopy passes from the mouth into the esophagus, stomach and the first part of the small intestines,” Dr. Kolpuru said. “A lower endoscopy – also known as a colonoscopy – is inserted through the rectum (anus) to look at the colon and the lower part of the small intestine.”

Are there any risks?

Endoscopy is a safe procedure. However, as with any procedure, some possible risks may include bleeding, infection or perforation (a small tear or hole) in the lining of the esophagus, stomach or intestine.

How do I prepare my child for an endoscopy?

Preparing your child for a pediatric endoscopy involves a few key steps. Your health care provider will give you specific instructions, but here are some general guidelines:

  • Fasting or bowel prep: “Like with any surgery where your child is put to sleep, your child needs to fast (stop eating after a certain time) to reduce the risk of aspiration (breathing problems),” Dr. Kolpuru said. “If your child has a lower endoscopy, bowel prep is needed so the colon is empty.”
  • Medication: Let the provider know about any medications your child is taking. Some may need to be adjusted or temporarily stopped before the procedure.
  • Comfort: Reassure your child that the procedure will help the doctors understand their tummy better. They can pick out comforting items to bring with them, like a favorite stuffed animal, to help ease any anxiety.

[Also read “How to Prepare for Pediatric Surgery” for more help.]

What should we expect on the day of the endoscopy?

On the day of the procedure, you’ll be guided through each step with your child’s health care team. Here’s a general overview of what you can expect:

  • Check-in on time: Arrive at the hospital or clinic at the designated time. The staff will guide you through check-in and provide additional instructions. 
  • Prepping for the procedure: You will be taken to a preoperative area where staff, including a child life specialist, will help prepare your child for the endoscopy. Your child will wear a special gown and an intravenous (IV) line will be placed to give them medications and fluids. 
  • During the procedure: Your child will be monitored by the anesthesiologist while the endoscope is gently inserted. The endoscopy typically takes about 15 to 30 minutes.

What happens after the endoscopy?

Once the procedure is over, your child will be taken into the recovery room. You will be brought back to this area once your child is about to wake up. 

“During this time, your child’s health care team will review the procedure results and discuss a care plan, including medications, diet and other restrictions,” Dr. Kolpuru said.

Once your child is awake and alert and can take fluids, they will be discharged to go home. They may feel groggy or have a sore throat at first, but should feel better after they recover from sedation

[Also read “What Happens After Pediatric Surgery” for more help.]

Bottom line

While a pediatric endoscopy may sound a bit scary, it is a very common tool used to understand what’s going on with your child’s health. It allows health care providers to closely look at the digestive system, diagnose conditions accurately and even treat specific issues. 

If you have any questions or concerns about the procedure, talk to your child’s gastroenterology team or a Banner Health specialist

For more pediatric gastroenterology blogs, check out:

Children's Health Gastroenterology