Upper endoscopy NO sedation: good experience! Some tips

Posted , 30 users are following.

I just thought I'd post my experience with my upper endoscopy/gastroscopy today, as I'd been putting it off for ages due to the awful stories I read online. I think people are more inclined to post their experience if it's an unsually traumatic one, so I'd like to add another good story to balance it out! 

Background: I'm a 26 year old female. It was about a year ago that my GP pushed for a gastroscopy, but after doing my research, I refused. Even the thought of it made my heart skip a beat. I was in the hospital once for an ultrasound and walked by the endoscopy unit... I remember thinking, no way am I ever going in there! Then this year I suffered a few bad bouts of vomiting, and my GP again encouraged me to have a gastroscopy. By then I was so sick that I just wanted to do whatever I could to help myself. 

So, in preparation, I read as many encouraging experiences as I could. By the time I arrived at the hospital today (University College London), I was in good spirits and excited to finally get it over with. I knew I was going to opt for just the throat spray and no sedation, as I always feel like my best chance of getting through anything is mind power. 

After an hour's wait, I was led into the procedure room and prepared by two lovely nurses. The doctor sprayed the numbing stuff into my mouth (it kind of stung and tasted weird, but it didn't bother me). I was expecting to feel uncomfortable as my throat was numbed, but it wasn't bad at all. I could still sort of feel myself swallow. If you feel like you can't swallow and it weirds you out, just put your hand on your throat and feel yourself swallow from the outside. 

The nurses then inserted the mouth piece, and the doctor told me to close my eyes. I felt the endoscope go to the back of my throat. He told me to swallow, and next thing you know I felt it (very faintly) go down my throat. I could breathe normally, as the endoscope was a lot narrower than my esophagus (I had pictured it as being so big it would block the air!), and I could even swallow without choking. Swallowing had been my main concern, because I find it hard not to swallow for long periods. But I was able to breathe and swallow as normal. 

While the endoscope was in my stomach, I was comfortable enough - I could have lasted like that for another hour. A few minutes in, the doctor moved the endoscope into my duodenum, and this is when it felt a tiny bit sore for a few seconds. It was more like discomfort than pain. He took some biopsies, which didn't hurt at all, I just didn't like the general feeling of something in that part of my intestine. But that part was so short (20 seconds or so) and the doctor reassured me by saying the procedure was almost over. Next thing I know, he pulled it back into my stomach, then all the way back up my throat. The whole thing lasted about 5 minutes max, no gagging at all. I would do it again right away if I had to! I'm really glad I didn't opt for sedation, as being aware of how easy it was going is what kept me calm throughout. I was out of the hospital and on the bus home within 15min of being done. 

Here's to reassure you about some common fears people have:

Gagging and being sick: The throat spray will do a lot to stop gagging, but even if you do gag, remind yourself that it's okay. It doesn't feel nice, but you're not going to die or have permanent damage, and there's probably nothing in your stomach for you to vomit up. I've had plenty of nights vomiting continuously for 10 hours, thinking I was going to suffocate, bursting blood vessels in my face from the violent gagging. So, absolute worst case scenario, I'm sure you can manage a few minutes of that surrounded by nurses that are taking care of you. wink But you probably won't be near that bad! 

In preparation, I actually trained my gag reflex to be less sensitive. Touching your gag reflex over time will desensitise it. If gagging really has you worried, I suggest Googling instructions (sword swallowers do this, as do people who... ahem... deep throat). This could be especially useful if you're the kind of person who gags when they brush their teeth or swallow pills. Sensitivity should return when you stop "exercising" the reflex (it's not good to weaken it forever, as it's there to stop you from choking!). Making a fist with your left hand and squeezing your left thumb inside it is also said to suppress your gag reflex.

Not being able to breathe: Nothing to be afraid of here, there is plenty of space in your throat and nose to breathe. 

Not being able to swallow: I managed to swallow just fine throughout, but you may not even need to, as the nurses suck out excess saliva with one of those dentist tubes.

Pain: Many people experience no pain, others just a tiny bit of soreness or discomfort at points. But probably nothing worse than the symptoms that have led you to do this test.

Panicking: If you are vaguely comfortable with things going past your gag reflex (as I was after desensitising it), you shouldn't have anything to worry about. I could hardly feel the tube in my throat. Thank goodness for that spray stuff! And just keep telling yourself it's a very short, safe, painless procedure, and each second you bear is one second closer to it being over. In the lead up to test, read other people's good experiences, and focus on the positive of how glad you'll be to have finally done it.

If you have any questions, I'll be happy to answer. If you're still really scared about having a gastroscopy, just remember, I was exactly like you a few months ago! And I managed to change my mindset to the point where I was laughing and joking with the nurses as they prepared me. smile

11 likes, 55 replies

55 Replies

  • Posted

    I totally agree, I almost cancelled mine but was so glad I didn't as it's not worth all the worry not knowing what is wrong! The nurses  were really lovely to me too and put my mind at rest , and 5 minutes after it was over  I felt fine!!
  • Posted

    Hello! I am having mine in the morning.. With sedation. My doctor didn't really give me an option for sedation.. Should I ask? Most people I know have the light sedation so they don't remember what's going on.. Just curious on your thoughts because I am SCARED!
    • Posted

      If your doctor didn't give you the option for sedation but you want it, definitely ask! Everyone should be able to choose between sedation or throat spray. I personally didn't like the idea of sedation, as I wanted to be in control and aware at all times. But people who are anxious about it tend to opt for sedation. Whatever you think is right for you! 
    • Posted

      ps, The nurse where I went for mine  said more people just choose to have the spray and be in control, and then feel better afterwards instead of tired all day
    • Posted

      At the clinic I go to not only is sedation is available, full anaesthesia is available for all endoscopic procedures. If you feel you need it I would ask for it. If you don't want either then that should be available.
  • Posted


    Thank You for posting your story. I'm quite heartened to read of a good experience of this unpleasant sounding procedure.  Also your detailed anxiety-specific advice is very useful indeed. 

    Myself I'm a 27 year old male with a recent diagnosis of acid reflux disease and so I have an endoscopy procedure coming up in a few weeks. I'm also opting to go sedative free, though I might take a blood pressure medicine beforehand to help calm my nerves. They're going to implant a ph monitoring device to confirm the acidity, etc. So it should be about 10 minutes all told. I've got a pretty sensitive gag reflex, so I'll definitely be working to desensitize it over the next couple of weeks, per your advice. 

    Anyway I have read elsewhere that there is some risk to dental work like fillings or crowns. You mention the mouth guard, but was there much pressure on your teeth from the scope during the procedure? I'm still not exactly sure what to expect in terms of the scope's size which people seem to describe as either bigger or smaller than expected.


    • Posted

      Hello there! I had my endoscopy on Monday and let me tell you, it was PAINLESS. I feel soooo entirely silly for even being scared. I was crying my eyes out in the doctors office so do not be worried. The nurses were holding my hand and my mom and boyfriend were there the entire time in my room. They took me back and gave me some medicine. Its sedation but all it does it make you act goofy and forget the procedure. The procedure took 3 minutes exactly and I was back in my room with my mom and boyfriend 10 min later. I promise if I were you, I would do sedation- it's hArdly anything!! It's administered by the nurse and has very little risks of any at all. My boyfriend video taped me and it was quite entertaing to say the least. You'll be fine! I was crying for weeks so I can guarantee you'll be ok. The mouth piece is just like plastic and it's rather comfortable, not what I was expecting. I could definitely do it again! BUT in my opinion, I think it's better to have a little "sedation" because why put yourself through that if you are so anxious? The sedation wears off after 20-25 minutes. They monitor everything and there's a team of 5 people back there. If something bad were to happen although it's highly unlikely, they have stuff to reverse the medication. You have NOTHING to worry about!!! Embrace it :-)
    • Posted

      Oh and also, they probably won't show you the scope if you're sedated. It's very small, I told the nurses I couldn't swallow it and they laughed and said that i would be fine and they were right! You also get really cool pictures afterwards. If your doctor is anything like mine- you'll be in good hands. My doctor is the best in town, does over 4,000 scopes a year. These peeps know what they are doing ;-)
    • Posted

      Hi Chelsie, Thanks very much for the reassurance. Glad to hear that yours went well, and it's good that you got some entertainment value out of it afterwards. Sedation sure can have goofy effects on people! And I know it can be super helpeful to have loved ones present during difficult procedures. I might actually have a friend of mine go with me for moral support. 

      I wish I could do sedation, but unfortunately I have a medical condition that makes it generally inadvisable. I try to avoid it unless absolutely neccesary. I do take a blood pressure medication very occasionally for anxiety, and it really mellows me out nicely, so I think I'll take one of those beforehand. And I will definietly try to embrace it. 

      Anyways thanks again! =)

    • Posted

      Hi 1BCP, just wondered how you got on with the scope ? Also you mentioned you'd be diagnosed with a reflux, what kind of reflux was this, silent? Are you in the UK or elsewhere? I'm 32 male and had a barium swallow in November last year didnt show anything apart from a little reflux when they tested me with water but said as I wasn't getting acid then it's nothing to worry about.. Still have a lump in throat sensations and cheat pains. I'm soooo worried that if I go back they will insist on a scope! What's your thoughts, cheers
    • Posted

      Hi Billa,

      Sorry to hear about your health troubles. I did okay with the scope, thanks. It was an extremely unpleasant experience, but I felt fine after a couple of days and with no damage found. 

      Doesn't sound to me like you'd be a candidate for that procedure, at least right now. I'm in the U.S., and having had symptoms like yours, Doctors were never insistent on the endoscopy as absolutely necessary for me. With me I had to initially make a fuss to get the barium swallow that showed reflux. 

      I'd imagine they might refer you to an ENT doc. I saw one early on and they do a much thiner and shorter scope through the nose to look for throat problems. This procedure was completely painless and not uncomfortable in the least. But from my understanding I doubt they'll even do that. Anyways good luck! Let me know if you have any questions. I've had pretty good success treating my symptoms with supplements and diet.  

    • Posted

      I mean I think the endoscopy is really used only if things have gotten a lot worse. 
    • Posted

      I'm just curious if you ever got the endoscopy done, and if so, what was the diagnosis?

      I'm 32 female and have been experiencing the lump in the throat sensation, as well as random chest pains/pressure.

      I'm going crazy waiting as my endoscopy isn't for another 3 weeks.

  • Posted

    I am pleased to hear that your experience was over in 5 minutes, it does however depend on your circumstances and a lot of other factors, so while you may be seeking to put people's minds at ease or think that the other stories are exagerated, you need to be aware that not everyone has the same experience.

    Mine was 30 minutes and towards the end I was struggling to breathe, but then in my case they were searching for varices and enlarged veins as I have end stage liver disease.

    Other factors to consider are whether there is a pre-existing condition, whether there is existing pain, your age - this can affect the dosage, whether you are being given the old or the new camera, one is a massive tube the other is minute by comparison, the location as in the hospital - there are truly horror stories about some hospitals, what they are looking for and whether they find it, if they do not immediately find it or are unsure, the procedure may be substanitally longer.

    For myself I would not have it done again, as it took months to recover as I kept vomiting, stomach was bloated and I had some internal bleeding.

    It is not like that for everyone, I also went through the whole process of researching the procedure before I had it, and I would definitely recommend the throat spray, but again that depends on your circumstances and your condition.

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