To diagnose a digestive disorder, your healthcare provider will ask about your medical
history and your symptoms. They will also do a physical exam.
Colorectal transit study. This test shows how well food moves through the colon. You swallow capsules containing
small markers that can be seen on an X-ray. You then eat a high-fiber diet during
the course of the test. The movement of the markers through the colon is monitored
with abdominal X-rays. These are taken several times 3 to 7 days after you swallow
the capsule. A newer way to do this is called a wireless motility capsule, or capsule
CT scan. This imaging test uses X-rays and a computer to make detailed images of the body.
A CT scan shows details of the bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are more
detailed than general X-rays.
Defecography. This test is an X-ray of the anal and rectal area. It checks how well stool leaves
the body and how well the rectal muscles are working. It can also find abnormalities
in the anus or rectum. During the test, your rectum is filled with a soft paste that
is the same consistency as stool. You then sit on a toilet positioned inside an X-ray
machine. You squeeze and relax the anus to expel the paste. The radiologist studies
the X-rays to see if there are any problems.
Lower GI (gastrointestinal) series. This test is also called a barium enema. It looks at the rectum, the large intestine,
and the lower part of the small intestine. Barium is given into the rectum as an enema.
An X-ray of the abdomen shows strictures (narrowed areas), obstructions (blockages),
and other problems.
MRI scan. This test uses a combination of large magnets, radiofrequencies, and a computer to
make detailed images of organs and structures within the body. You lie on a bed that
moves into the cylindrical MRI machine. The machine takes a series of pictures of
the inside of the body using a magnetic field and radio waves. The computer enhances
the pictures. The test is painless. And you are not exposed to radiation. Because
the MRI machine is like a tunnel, some people become claustrophobic or are unable
to hold still during the test. They may be given a sedative to help them relax. Metal
objects can't be present in the MRI room. So people with pacemakers or metal clips
or rods inside the body can't have this test done. All jewelry must be removed before
Magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP). This test uses MRI to view the bile ducts. The machine uses radio waves and magnets
to scan internal tissues and organs.
Oropharyngeal motility (swallowing) study. This is also called a barium swallow. In this test, you are given small amounts of a
liquid containing barium to drink with a bottle, spoon, or cup. A series of X-rays
is taken to see what happens as you swallow the liquid.
Radioisotope gastric-emptying scan. During this test, you eat food containing a radioisotope. This is a slightly radioactive
substance that will show up on a scan. The dose of radiation from the radioisotope
is very small and not harmful. But it allows the radiologist to see the food in the
stomach and how quickly it leaves the stomach, while you lie under a machine. Other,
newer tests to diagnose problems with food leaving the stomach (gastroparesis) include
breath testing and a wireless motility capsule.
Ultrasound. This imaging test uses high-frequency sound waves and a computer to make images of
blood vessels, tissues, and organs. Ultrasounds are used to view internal organs as
they function. It can also assess blood flow through various vessels. Gel is put on
the area of the body being studied, such as the abdomen. A wand called a transducer
is then placed on the skin. The transducer sends sound waves into the body that bounce
off organs and return to the ultrasound machine, making an image on the monitor. A
picture or videotape of the test is also made so it can be reviewed in the future.
Upper GI (gastrointestinal) series (also called barium swallow). This test looks at the organs of the upper part of the digestive system. These are
the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum (the first part of the small intestine). You
swallow barium and then X-rays are taken to check the digestive organs.
Colonoscopy. This procedure allows the healthcare provider to view the whole length of the large
intestine (colon). It can often help find abnormal growths, inflamed tissue, ulcers,
and bleeding. A colonoscope is put into the rectum and moved up into the colon. A
colonoscope is a long, flexible tube with a light on it. It allows the healthcare
provider to see the lining of the colon and remove tissue for further study, if needed.
It can also treat some problems, if found. A virtual colonoscopy is now available.
It uses CT imaging to look at your colon. But problems can't be treated during a virtual
Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP). This procedure allows the healthcare provider to diagnose and treat problems in the
liver, gallbladder, bile ducts, and pancreas. It combines X-ray and the use of an
endoscope. This is a long, flexible, lighted tube. The scope is guided through your
mouth and throat and then through the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum (the first
part of the small intestine). The healthcare provider can look at the inside of these
organs and see any problems. A tube is then passed through the scope. A dye is injected that
allows the internal organs to appear on an X-ray.
Esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD or upper endoscopy). An EGD allows the healthcare provider to look at the inside of the esophagus, stomach,
and duodenum with an endoscope. This scope is guided into the mouth and throat and
then into the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum. With the endoscope, the healthcare
provider can view the inside of this part of the body. They can also insert instruments
through the scope to remove a sample of tissue (a biopsy), if needed. When an ultrasound
probe is attached to a scope, an internal ultrasound can be done. This is called a
EUS. When the test is extended into the deeper small intestine, it's called an enteroscopy.
Sigmoidoscopy. This procedure allows the healthcare provider to check the inside of a part of the
large intestine. It is helpful in finding the causes of diarrhea, abdominal pain,
constipation, abnormal growths, and bleeding. A sigmoidoscope is put into the intestine
through the rectum. This short, flexible, lighted tube blows air into the intestine
to inflate it. This makes viewing the inside easier.
Anorectal manometry. This test helps gauge the strength of the muscles in the rectum and anus. These muscles
normally tighten to hold in a bowel movement and relax when a bowel movement is passed.
Anorectal manometry is helpful in checking for anorectal malformations and Hirschsprung
disease, among other problems. A small tube is placed into the rectum. It measures
the pressures exerted by the sphincter muscles that ring the canal.
Esophageal manometry. This test helps gauge the strength of the muscles in the esophagus. It is useful
in assessing gastroesophageal reflux and swallowing problems. A small tube is guided
into the nostril. It's then passed into the throat and finally into the esophagus.
It measures the pressure the esophageal muscles make at rest.
Esophageal pH monitoring. An esophageal pH monitor measures the acidity inside of the esophagus. It is helpful
in evaluating gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). A thin, plastic tube is placed
into a nostril. It's guided down the throat and into the esophagus. The tube stops
just above the lower esophageal sphincter. This is at the connection between the esophagus
and the stomach. At the end of the tube inside the esophagus is a sensor that measures
pH, or acidity. The other end of the tube outside the body is connected to a monitor.
It records the pH levels for a 24- to 48-hour period. Normal activity is encouraged
during the study. You keep a diary of your symptoms, such as gagging or coughing.
You also record when you eat, what types of food, and how much. The pH readings are
evaluated and compared to your activity for that time period. Sometimes esophageal
pH monitoring is done during an upper endoscopy by clipping a pH probe onto the esophagus.
It measures pH without having a tube remain in your nose or mouth.
Capsule endoscopy. This test helps healthcare providers look at the small intestine. It's used because
traditional procedures, such as an upper endoscopy or colonoscopy, can't reach this
part of the bowel. This procedure is helpful in finding causes of bleeding, polyps,
inflammatory bowel disease, ulcers, and tumors of the small intestine. A sensor device
is placed on your abdomen. You then swallow a small capsule. The capsule has a video
camera in it. The capsule passes naturally through the digestive tract while sending
video images to a data recorder. The data recorder is secured to your waist by a belt
for 8 hours. Images of the small bowel are downloaded onto a computer from the data
recorder. The images are reviewed on a computer screen by a healthcare provider. The
capsule passes through the colon and exits your body in your stool in about 24 hours.
Gastric manometry. This test measures electrical and muscular activity in the stomach. The healthcare
provider passes a thin tube down your throat into your stomach. This tube contains
a wire that takes measurements of the electrical and muscular activity of the stomach
as it digests foods and liquids. This test helps show how the stomach is working.
It can see if there is any delay in digestion. This test can be extended into the
small intestine and is called antroduodenal manometry. The duodenum is the first part
of the small intestine.