How Are Small Intestine Problems Diagnosed?


Quick Answer

An upper gastrointestinal series and an upper endoscopy are two common tests used to diagnose problems in the small intestines, reports WebMD. An upper gastrointestinal series examines the upper and middle sections of the gastrointestinal tract, while an endoscopy looks at the lining of the esophagus, stomach and upper small intestine.

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An upper gastrointestinal series, or UGI, is done on an outpatient basis by a radiologist, explains WebMD. A preliminary X-ray is taken and the individual then drinks a barium contrast dye. As the liquid moves through the digestive system, the radiologist tracks its progress through the gastrointestinal tract on a video screen while taking a series of X-rays from different angles. The UGI series takes approximately 40 minutes, and the results are finalized within three days. A UGI is used to diagnose swallowing difficulties, possible bowel obstruction, abdominal pain while eating, or frequent and severe heartburn.

During an endoscopy, a long, flexible tube with an attached camera is placed in the sedated patient’s mouth and gently moved down the esophagus, states WebMD. The doctor uses an eyepiece or a video monitor to observe the upper digestive tract as the lens on the scope transmits and stores the images in photographic form. Biopsy tissue samples may be collected, and tumors and polyps can be removed. An endoscopy typically takes about 45 minutes. It is performed to look for ulcers, tumors and hiatal hernias, as well as to determine causes of bleeding, inflammation and vomiting of blood.

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