Skip to Main Content

When Can an Upper Endoscopy Help

For many GI issues, an upper endoscopy can help identify the cause and determine the best course of treatment. Here's what you need to know about endoscopies and when they are most helpful.


Though sometimes confused with colonoscopy, upper endoscopy is a completely different medical procedure that helps identify gastrointestinal (GI) issues in the upper tract and can be extremely helpful in creating a treatment plan to alleviate troublesome symptoms related to a number of GI issues. Let’s talk through what an upper endoscopy is, what it can help diagnose, and how you can work with your care team to determine if an upper endoscopy might be right for you. For patients with new or worsening symptoms, it is possible to schedule an upper endoscopy and a colonoscopy at the same time to get a clear picture of the full digestive system at once.

What Is an Upper Endoscopy?

An upper endoscopy is a medical procedure involving a thin, flexible tube with a light and camera used to examine and identify issues in the upper digestive tract. Upper endoscopies can help diagnose issues with the esophagus, stomach, and upper part of the small intestine.

The procedure itself is very quick, usually taking only 5-10 minutes after sedation has kicked in. Because patients are sedated for the procedure, a driver is required to accompany you.

Once the upper endoscopy has been completed, you will discuss immediate findings with your doctor and use those findings to either determine a diagnosis, order further testing, or create a treatment plan.

How Do I Know If I Need an Upper Endoscopy?

Upper endoscopies can be especially beneficial if you are experiencing GI “red flag” symptoms. These symptoms include:

  • Swallowing troubles
  • Blood in stool or coughing up blood
  • Unexpected weight loss
  • Anemia or iron deficiency
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Stomach cramps

However, these aren’t the only symptoms that indicate an upper endoscopy is needed. Upper endoscopies can help diagnose a wide range of GI conditions, so if you’re experiencing concerning, persistent, or new GI symptoms, discuss the possibility of an upper endoscopy with your primary care physician.

Dr. Amber Tierney, MD and GI specialist at The Iowa Clinic, notes that the procedure is quick and simple, and can help pave the way for relief for so many patients.

“Typically we can say pretty quickly what it looks like, and that is the first step to getting a treatment plan together that can alleviate symptoms and possibly cure the condition, depending on what we’re dealing with,” Dr. Tierney says.

What Does Upper Endoscopy Help Diagnose?

As previously mentioned, because upper endoscopy is focused on examining the esophagus, stomach, and first part of the small intestine, it is best suited to diagnose and identify issues in these areas. Some of the most common conditions upper endoscopies uncover include:

  • Peptic Ulcer Disease
  • H. Pylori Infection
  • Esophageal stricture or narrowing (usually due to reflux)
  • Barrett’s Esophagus (a precancerous condition)
  • Celiac Disease

Using Upper Endoscopy as Part of a Coordinated Care Plan with The Iowa Clinic

The care team at The Iowa Clinic is dedicated to incorporating new and improved treatment options as part of an evidence-based medical approach. Dr. Tierney notes that over the last five years, the medical landscape for GI conditions has really improved, and they continue to improve routinely.

“We incorporate evidence-based treatment right away - whether that's a combination of therapies, new guidelines on what to look out for, and more. Routinely we’re incorporating something new in terms of treatment and management,” Dr. Tierney says.

Thanks to the Coordinated Care approach at The Iowa Clinic, your GI specialists will work seamlessly with your primary care provider and any other specialists you are seeing to create a comprehensive care plan that addresses your unique needs across the full spectrum of your health. If you are experiencing GI symptoms, talk to your primary care provider about upper endoscopy today.

Back to top