Balloon-Assisted Endoscopy

Balloon-assisted endoscopy is a visual examination of the small bowel using an instrument called an endoscope: a lighted, flexible tube, about the thickness of a finger. The balloon allows the scope to pass further into the small bowel–which is about 20 feet long–than previously possible. Balloon-assisted endoscopies are performed by doctors from the Gastroenterology Program at the University of Michigan, ranked best in the state by U.S. News & World Report.

Visit the Your Digestive System page to learn more about the digestive organs involved in this procedure.

How Is a Balloon-Assisted Endoscopy Performed?

A balloon-assisted endoscopy can either be performed through the mouth or the rectum. The doctor inserts the tube through either the upper or lower gastrointestinal tract into the small bowel. Inflated balloons hold onto the sides of the bowel and a tube slides over the scope like a curtain sliding over a curtain rod. This helps move the scope through the bowel.

Before beginning the procedure, which takes place at our Medical Procedures Unit, you will have an intravenous (IV) line started to give you a sedative. You will lie on your left side while connected to oxygen and blood pressure monitors. The sedative will make you comfortable and sleepy. Your throat will be numbed with a spray (for the procedure through the mouth only) and you will be sedated before the doctor starts. You will be able to breathe normally and burp if needed during the procedure.

The procedure takes about 2 hours, but expect your visit to last 4 to 5 hours to allow for preparation, follow-up with the doctor, and recovery. 

A balloon-assisted endoscopy requires medication to clean out your bowels (also known as a bowel prep), which you take the day before the procedure. You must not eat any solid food the day of the procedure and stop drinking clear liquids two hours before the procedure. You must have a licensed driver of at least 18 years old with you throughout the procedure because the sedatives will make you drowsy.

Why Do I Need a Balloon-Assisted Endoscopy?

Balloon-assisted endoscopies help your doctor rule out possible conditions or make a diagnosis for issues such as:

  • Early signs of cancer
  • Bleeding
  • Narrowing of a passageway of the bowel

If necessary, during the procedure an instrument can be passed through the tube to take a small piece of tissue (a biopsy) for examination in the lab. Biopsies are done for many reasons and do not necessarily imply cancer. Other procedures can be performed if necessary during the balloon-assisted endoscopy, such as removing a polyp or foreign object, or treating bleeding lesions.

What Are the Potential Complications from a Balloon-Assisted Endoscopy?

A balloon-assisted endoscopy is generally very safe. Very rare complications include bleeding, problems with the sedative, a blockage of the bowel (due to a stoppage of the contraction needed to move materials through the bowel), inflammation of the pancreas, or a tear in the intestinal wall. If you notice any signs of bleeding or if you have significant pain after a balloon-assisted endoscopy, contact your doctor as instructed on your discharge papers.

What Happens After the Balloon-Assisted Endoscopy?

After the procedure, you will be taken to a recovery room where your driver can join you and you will receive discharge instructions. The doctor who performed the procedure will explain the preliminary results to you and give the complete results to the doctor who ordered your procedure. Biopsy results will be available in about a week.

Make an Appointment

To make an appointment for a balloon-assisted endoscopy or other GI procedure, call the University of Michigan Medical Procedures Unit at 877-758-2626.