Adult Chest Surgery

Chapter 12. Esophagoscopy 


Esophagoscopy is an endoscopic procedure that permits visualization of the internal lumen of the esophagus. It is usually accomplished as a part of a more extended procedure called esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD), which includes the stomach and duodenum. This visual examination is performed using a specially designed endoscope (flexible or rigid). Since its invention by Philip Bozzini in 1806, the endoscope, which at that time consisted of a rigid tube, external light source, and a viewer, has evolved to become smaller, flexible, and more versatile. Currently, flexible endoscopes are equipped with video imaging systems that generate magnified, clear images that can be viewed by the entire operating room staff. While flexible esophagoscopy can be performed with topical anesthesia, conscious sedation, or general anesthesia, rigid esophagoscopy is usually performed with the patient under general anesthesia.

Esophagoscopy is the primary diagnostic tool for any disease suspected to involve the esophagus. It also can be used for many different therapeutic applications, including delivery of ablative energy (cautery and photodynamic or laser therapy) for tumors, banding of varices, cauterization or injection for bleeding, deployment of stents, removal of foreign objects, and other surgical manipulations. Expertise in esophagoscopy is a requisite for all esophageal and general thoracic surgeons, and guidelines for skill attainment have been established and published by a number of surgical societies.1–5


The modern endoscopic system consists of an endoscope, light source, optical system, and working port. A basic understanding of these components, outlined in Table 12-1, is essential. For most applications, a flexible videoendoscope is sufficient and preferred. Flexible endoscopes come in many sizes. The larger sizes allow for wider suction and working ports while providing excellent images. The smaller sizes are more comfortable for the patient and allow sufficient room for additional devices to be placed through the lumen of the esophagus at the same time. Rigid esophagoscopes are large, inflexible metal cylinders that come in different widths and lengths. These are used only for work that requires a very wide lumen, such as removing a foreign object or repositioning a stent.

Table 12-1. Components of an Endoscopic System

The scope

·   Rigid tube containing a lens and a light source.

·   Flexible tube containing a flexible light and optic fibers. Flexible scopes have a control panel that enables steering in two or four directions.


The light source

·   Usually located outside the body, the light source transmits light waves through an optical fiber system to the distal end of the scope, thereby illuminating the organ or object under inspection.


The optical system

·   A lens system that transmits the image to the viewer from the fiberscope, or video chip, at the end of the scope.

·   Newer systems relay a video image to a television monitor and may have recording capabilities.


The working port

·   The channel used for diagnostic and therapeutic modalities. The working port facilitates the administration of drugs, irrigation, and suction, as well as implementation of energy-delivery systems, including cautery, photodynamic therapy, or laser. Through this port, endoscopic instrumentation is also introduced, including guidewires, forceps, scissors, brushes, snares, and baskets, all of which are used to enable tissue biopsy, removal of foreign bodies, dilation, and focal surgical procedures such as polypectomy.



EGD is indicated when there is a clinical suspicion of pathology of the upper gastrointestinal tract, before surgery of the esophagus or stomach, and for specific therapy of known disorders. This procedure enables the surgeon to visualize the endoluminal anatomy in great detail, as well as structural anomalies, disorders, and defects of the gastrointestinal tract. In addition, endoscopy is an excellent way to obtain tissue biopsy for histologic diagnosis or to examine the mediastinum or the rest of the layers of the esophagus with ultrasound.

Endoscopy should be performed in a controlled, well-equipped setting staffed and monitored by experienced personnel. Such locations usually include freestanding endoscopy suites and operating rooms. In emergent cases, the equipment and personnel can be moved to the bedside in the ICU or emergency ward, obviating the need to move a critically ill patient. As for any other procedure, the endoscopist should be well-trained and have proper credentials to perform the procedure. Clear indications and expectations for any procedure should be discussed with the patient before endoscopy. It is also important for the surgeon to be familiar with the potential complications of endoscopy and to take proactive measures to reduce overall morbidity (Table 12-2). Several good practices are (1) to avoid applying undue force when maneuvering the instrument through the patient's oropharynx or esophagus because this may lead to perforation or unsafe instrumentation, (2) to remove all tubes that are in place (e.g., nasogastric tube) before starting the procedure, and (3) to not compromise patient care by lack of the equipment required to perform the proposed procedure, a particular concern in the office setting.

Table 12-2. Common Pitfalls

·   Failure to establish a clear indication for procedure

·   Failure to recognize or evaluate the patient's premorbid state

·   Coagulopathy (primary or secondary to medication)

·   Patient compliance with NPO status preprocedure

·   Endoscopist attempting procedure beyond limits of training

·   Equipment failure

·   Undue force used in working with instrumentation during procedure

·   Performing endoscopy when there are additional tubes in place




The risk of endoscopy arises from the patient's medical condition, anesthetic management, and the actual procedure. A careful and thorough preprocedural assessment of the patient, including evaluation, selection, and preparation, is the first step for any surgical procedure. Particular attention should be focused on history of coagulopathy (primary or secondary to medication) because this can increase the procedural risk significantly. Patients deemed high risk secondary to other comorbid disease or procedures that may require technology not readily available in the outpatient setting should be treated in an institutional setting. All patients are assessed for their relative risk of undergoing anesthesia using standard American Society of Anesthesiologists' (ASA) guidelines.Anesthesia-related risks include aspiration, intravenous conscious sedation or general anesthesia, and anaphylaxis. Patients with an ASA score of 4, defined as a "patient with severe systemic disease that is a constant threat to life," should not undergo endoscopy in the office setting. Patients with an ASA score of 3 (a "patient with severe systemic disease") should undergo additional preoperative assessment to determine the appropriateness of office endoscopy. Before the endoscopic procedure, patients must be given clear instructions that stress the importance of fasting for at least 6–8 hours before the procedure. Aspiration can be a catastrophic complication. Procedural complications are reduced in the hands of an experienced endoscopist.


Preoperative Setup

Before performing esophagoscopy, all equipment (endoscopic, monitoring, and resuscitative) must be assembled and examined for proper function (Table 12-3). The endoscope should be examined for sterility and external integrity (e.g., the plastic coating must be completely intact without visible fractures). All knobs and buttons should be fit snugly in place and should be tested for proper function, including axial motion, air insufflation, water instillation, and suction. The video monitor should be turned on, the patient data should be entered in the electronic record, and the scope should be balanced for image clarity. The monitor should be placed directly in front of the endoscopist, and the room lights should be dimmed to maximize the quality of the image on the video monitor.

Table 12-3. Monitoring and Sedation for Office-Based Endoscopy

·   Confirm patient's NPO status.

·   Place intravenous line prior to administering sedatives, and maintain intravenous line until patient has recovered sufficiently to permit safe discharge.

·   Monitoring baseline pulse, respiratory rate, oxygen saturation, and blood pressure, recorded before administration of any sedatives. Pulse oximetry, cardiac monitoring, automated blood pressure recording, and supplemental oxygen should be employed routinely.

·   Endoscopy suite must have emergency medications and equipment used for cardiopulmonary resuscitation (including oral suction, defibrillator, ambu bag, laryngoscope, and an emergency airway tray). This equipment must be readily available and checked on a daily basis.

·   Staff must be appropriately trained in resuscitation. An advanced cardiac life support (ACLS)–certified provider must accompany all sedated patients throughout their stay.

·   An assistant trained at least in basic cardiac life support (BCLS) should be present during all procedures to monitor the patient.

·   A registered nurse should monitor the patient in the recovery area.

·   A formal transport agreement with an acute care facility capable of managing endoscopic complications must be in place and easily executed when necessary.




The patient's status with respect to oral intake is confirmed (nothing by mouth for at least 6 hours). Anesthesia has already been selected based on surgeon preference and the goals of the procedure. Standard procedures for anesthesia or conscious sedation are instituted. For general anesthesia, the patient is placed in the supine position on the operating table, induced, and intubated. The conscious patient is placed in left lateral decubitus position, and a mouth guard is placed both to enable passage of the scope into the mouth and to prevent the patient from biting the scope.


After the patient has been inducted with general anesthesia, the endoscope is placed into the oropharynx and esophagus by extending the lower jaw anteriorly and placing the endoscope behind the endotracheal tube (Fig. 12-1). The conscious patient is positioned on his or her side, usually the left, and asked to swallow the endoscope. Then the endoscope may be maneuvered by rotation in the hands of the operator, who at all times should be attempting to center the lumen on the video monitor, using insufflation as needed, before advancing the endoscope farther along. The scope should be in the unlocked position. Keeping the lumen in the center of the image decreases the chance of perforation. The scope is advanced with minimal force. After the scope is beyond the first narrowing of the upper esophageal sphincter at the cricopharyngeus, the esophagus is insufflated with air and the mucosa examined as the scope is advanced (Fig. 12-2). A second narrowing occurs in the area of the aortic arch and carina, approximately 24–25 cm from the incisors. The final anatomic narrowing occurs at the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), which is about 40 cm from the incisors. The esophageal, gastric, and duodenal mucosae are examined visually for lesions, strictures, webs, ulcers, dilatations, diverticula, and other pathology (Fig. 12-3). The Z-line is identified, and the length is measured (incisors to Z-line) and documented. The stomach is entered, insufflated, and examined in its entirety. Retroflexion is performed by advancing the scope into the greater curvature and then angling it to achieve maximal retroflexion. The scope is pulled back toward the gastroesophageal junction and turned 360 degrees, providing good visualization of the gastroesophageal junction and its relation to the hiatus from within the stomach. The greater and lesser curvatures of the stomach, as well as the antrum and pylorus, are insufflated and examined. The scope is then passed into the second part of the duodenum to exclude the presence of additional pathology and determine how tight the pylorus may be. In our practice, endoscopy routinely includes visualization up to and including the second part of the duodenum. Before withdrawing the scope from the duodenum, air is removed by suction.

Figure 12-1.


Inserting the endoscope for esophagoscopy.


Figure 12-2.


Anatomic regions of esophageal and proximal foregut narrowing. Cricopharyngeus (14 cm in females, 15 cm in males). Carina and aortic arch (24-26 cm). Diaphragmatic constriction in the area of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES; 36-38 cm in females, 38–40 cm in males). Pylorus.


Figure 12-3.


Representative pathology. A. Barrett's distal esophagus. B. Retroflex view showing slipped Nissen fundoplication.

Depending on the indication for esophagoscopy, after visual examination, diagnostic procedures such as biopsy using flexible biopsy forceps or therapeutic procedures can be performed. In the event of stricture, a guidewire may be inserted to cross the stricture before (if the stricture is very tight) or after the scope has traversed it. The scope is withdrawn, and serial dilations are carried out using Savary dilators. Alternatively, a pneumatic dilator can be placed over the guidewire and the stricture dilated using preset pressure and diameter (see Chap. 27). Completion endoscopy is then carried out to evaluate the results of the dilation and to rule out procedure-related injury.


Prevention is key to avoiding the complications of endoscopy, namely, oversedation, aspiration, bleeding, perforation, systemic processes, and injury incidental to recovery (Table 12-4). Oversedation can be avoided by judicious use of sedatives, but when it occurs, it is best managed by postprocedural monitoring or intubation and monitoring in an intensive care unit setting. The major risks of oversedation are central respiratory suppression and loss of gag reflex. The risk of aspiration is minimized with proper patient preparation (i.e., nothing by mouth for at least 6 hours), by avoiding excessive insufflation, and through judicious use of sedation and monitoring. Bleeding can be minimized by gentle maneuvering of the endoscope, cessation of anticoagulant medication preoperatively, and if encountered, cauterization of bleeding sites as soon as they are identified. Parenthetically, some of the flexible biopsy forceps also have the capability of functioning as electrocautery. Perforation can be avoided largely by careful maneuvering of the endoscope without forcing it through tight spots. Perforations usually occur at the site of one of the three narrow points described earlier or next to the diseased portion. It is important to recognize perforation early because immediate therapy reduces mortality. A high index of suspicion is important. Patients with perforation usually complain of pain and may have tachycardia and/or subcutaneous emphysema. A chest x-ray may demonstrate a pneumothorax or air tracking in the mediastinum. A contrast study such as an upper gastrointestinal series or CT scan may be helpful to identify a perforation before the repair.

Table 12-4. Complications

·   Oversedation

·   Aspiration

·   Bleeding

·   Perforation

·   Systemic



Finally, systemic complications are extremely rare except in critically ill patients. These can be secondary to medications (i.e., hypotension, arrhythmias, and rarely, anaphylaxis). Instrumentation insufflation can lead to a vasovagal reflex, and rarely, translocation of bacteria has been reported to precipitate sepsis, as has the use of instruments not sterilized properly.


Esophagoscopy is an evolving and important diagnostic and therapeutic operation. Hybrid procedures are emerging that combine the advantages of multiple therapeutic and technologically advanced platforms. Reports of initial experiences with long-distance endoscopy are encouraging and in future could facilitate improved medical care to remote and underserved regions. The experimental field of natural orifice transluminal endoscopic surgery (NOTES) one day may expand the indications for use of this important technology.Endoscopes with sewing ports are currently used for plication of the gastroesophageal junction. The longevity and efficacy of these procedures, however, have yet to be proved. In addition, early reports of using natural orifices for organ removal, with intentional internal perforation of the stomach for cholecystectomy and appendectomy, are unproved in terms of safety and long-term benefit. Intriguing emerging technologies that one day may replace diagnostic endoscopy, thus reducing the procedural risks associated with sedation and instrumentation, are also being developed. Examples include the wireless capsule endoscopy and virtual endoscopy with three-dimensional computed tomographic reconstruction. Despite the aforementioned advances, acquiring the skills for conventional endoscopy is paramount to the surgeon interested in foregut practice and will be needed for some time to come.


This concise and clearly written chapter describes the indications for and the technique of endoscopy of the esophagus. Taking great care with patient preparation and having appropriate backup monitoring as well as OR capability are key to performing this procedure safely. Although not all esophageal surgeons do their own esophagoscopy, there is a trend for more surgeons to do this prior to resection.


1. Guidelines for Endoscopic Surgery. Society of American Gastrointestinal and Endoscopic Surgeons, 2007; available at 

2. Cass O, Freeman M, Cohen J, et al: ACES Study Group. Acquisition of competency in endoscopic skills (ACES) during training: A multicenter study (abstract). Gastrointest Endosc 43:308, 1993. 

3. Cass O, Freeman M, Peine C, et al: Objective evaluation of endoscopic skills during training. Ann Intern Med 118:40–4, 1993. [PubMed: 8416157]

4. Cosgrove J, Cohen J, Wait R, Margolis I: Endoscopy training during general surgery residency. SAGES 393–5, 1995. 

5. Galandiuk S: A surgical subspecialist enhances general surgical operative experience. Arch Surg 130:1136–8, 1995. [PubMed: 7575129]

6. American Society of Anesthesiology Physical Status Score, available at 

7. Giday SA, Kantsevoy SV, Kalloo AN: Principle and history of natural orifice translumenal endoscopic surgery (NOTES). Minim Invasive Ther Allied Technol 15:373–7, 2006. [PubMed: 17190662]

If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at Thank you!