What is an Endoscope?

Many of us may well have heard of endoscopes, perhaps in medical dramas on television or at the movies, but what are they?

While the technology itself is complex, the purpose behind endoscopes is actually surprisingly simple.

Endoscopy is a medical procedure performed when doctors need to explore a patient’s insides – unlike x-rays or scans, endoscopy provides a clearer internal view to identify problems: if a patient complains of abdominal cramps, endoscopic investigations can reveal the source of the issue.

 

How does an Endoscope Work?

An endoscope is basically close to a flexible telescope, with two or three optical cables – within each of these are as many as 50,000 individual optical fibers. So how does it work?

One or more of the main cables projects light into the patient’s insides, while another sends reflected light back to the user, presenting a clear image of the internal area. The doctor will view this via either an eyepiece or a monitor (provided the endoscope features a camera).

 

Are there Different Types of Endoscopes?

Depending on how they need to be used, endoscopes are produced in a wide variety of styles: the majority are thin and hollow, featuring lights and/or cameras; others are more stiff, while some are flexible; some newer models can even be swallowed by the patient, and transmit images to the physician through a wireless connection (before making its way out of the body).

Doctors may use new or used endoscopes (obviously treated for hygiene reasons). Each different endoscope is designed to explore a different area of the body. Let’s take a look at a few different types:

 

Arthroscope: This is used to explore the patient’s joints,  inserted via cuts in the skin

Bronchoscope: A bronchoscope is used to look at the lungs’ tubes, or the windpipe, inserted through the nose or mouth

Colonoscope: A colonoscope is designed to explore the patient’s large intestine and colon, and is inserted through the anus

Cystoscope: This is used to look at the patient’s bladder, and is inserted through the urethra

 

What other uses do Endoscopes Offer?

However, endoscopes are used for more than just exploratory procedures – they are also vital for small surgical tasks. Their fine, flexible design allows endoscopes to reach areas otherwise demanding invasive surgery, without the extensive time, cost, and physical trauma of standard operations.

Surgical endoscopes can be maneuvered using cables or knobs, and biopsies can be performed with miniscule forceps attached to the tip. A tube on the main cables allows the doctor to remove fluids or blockages, with a simple sucking motion. Some endoscopes also allow for precise lasers to beam through, eliminating dead tissue, healing wounds, or creating incisions with much-needed accuracy.

As technology continues to evolve, so too will endoscopes!