What Is an Endoscopic Tube?

Elizabeth West

An endoscopic tube can be inserted into the body through an orifice or a surgical opening. It has a light and camera inside it for observation of internal structures and disease processes. There are two main types, rigid and flexible, with which diagnostic endoscopic procedures may be performed upon any part of the body. Both human doctors and veterinarians use endoscopes in their work.

Endoscopy equipment.
Endoscopy equipment.

Many varieties of endoscopic tube exist, each named for parts of the body they are meant to examine. Most people are familiar with the laparoscope, the esophagoscope and the colonoscope. These devices go into the abdomen, the throat and the colon respectively. The camera in an endoscopic tube is connected to a monitor where a medical professional can view images in real time. Cutting tools can be attached to the endoscope to take tissue samples for biopsy or perform surgical excisions.

An endoscopic tube is sometimes inserted through the mouth.
An endoscopic tube is sometimes inserted through the mouth.

The endoscopic tube was used as early as the nineteenth century. The first ones had external light sources that didn’t travel through the tube, making observation extremely difficult. Berlin manufacturer Georg Wolf fabricated a gastroscope in 1911 and Karl Storz of Tuttlingen later sought improvements on it. It wasn’t until the 1950s that fiber optics allowed brighter light and better image quality. As of 2012, the company Karl Storz founded in 1945 still produces endoscopic equipment.

Rigid endoscopes are typically used in areas of the body where a flexible one isn’t needed. The most common type is the rod-lens scope, an endoscopic tube developed in the 1960s by Harold Hopkins. It contains longer glass fiber optic rods that hold components and aren’t separated by air spaces that previous lenses and their support systems had. This left plenty of room inside the tubes for both the rods and instruments, and improved the image quality tremendously.

Rod-lens endoscopes are most commonly used in surgical procedures that don’t require an open incision, such as gallbladder removal and other abdominal procedures. The surgeon will instead make several smaller incisions through which an endoscopic tube can be inserted, along with instruments for performing the operation. This is often referred to as “keyhole surgery,” and typically has a much smaller scar and shorter recovery time. The rod-lens rigid endoscopic tube is also widely used in arthroscopy, urology, and gynecology.

A flexible esophagoscope is the instrument of choice when doctors examine the upper GI tract from the pharynx to the stomach. Anyone who has a suspected ulcer or hiatal hernia may be subject to this procedure. The patient is sedated and the endoscopic tube inserted through the mouth. People with gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD) can have esophageal erosions that cause intense pain and are commonly diagnosed this way.

Flexible endoscopes can navigate the twists and turns of the human gastrointestinal tract with ease. The shaft of the instrument is made of fiber mesh and steel coil with a rubber outside that bends around corners and through tight spaces. It has a movable bending section at the end and a handle. Besides human applications, veterinarians use flexible endoscopes on snakes for respiratory endoscopy, and gastrointestinal procedures in many other species.

Flexible endoscopes can easily navigate the twists and turns of a person's gastrointestinal tract.
Flexible endoscopes can easily navigate the twists and turns of a person's gastrointestinal tract.

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