Your provider just told you that it is time to get a colonoscopy. You may be wondering:
- What is a colonoscopy?
- Why do I need one?
- How can I be prepared?
- What can I expect?
Like many things in health care, colonoscopies can be a bit scary. By becoming informed and being prepared you can ease your mind about the procedure.
What is a Colonoscopy?
A colonoscopy is a procedure that examines the inside of your intestines. The doctor can see changes in the colon and in the rectum that may be a health risk to you. Before the procedure begins you will be given some medication that will help you relax. Once you’re relaxed the doctor will insert a small soft tube with a small video camera at the end, into the intestine. Intestines are smooth with equally spaced ridges which are actually muscles. The doctor will be looking for any irregularities in the smooth tissue. If an irregularity is found the doctor will take a sample of the tissue and have it tested in the lab to make sure it is nothing to worry about.
Why you need it?
There are many reasons why you may need a colonoscopy. Some reasons might include:
- Family history of intestinal cancer.
- Issues like stomach pain, chronic diarrhea or constipation, or bleeding from the rectum.
- Screening for colon cancer. The CDC suggests that adults 45 to 75 years old receive regular screening for colon cancer.
Make sure to ask your doctor why you need a colonoscopy.
Being prepared is important to making you feel at ease before your colonoscopy when you follow these two steps:
- Complete the bowel prep provided by your doctor. The bowel prep kits are medications that help you empty your intestines.
- Follow the special diet instructions provided by the doctor: Clear liquids for 24 hours before the procedure (water, broth, sodas, tea, and coffee with no milk).
Remember to not drink red liquids like cranberry juice, it can look like blood which may make the doctor think your intestines are bleeding.
What to Expect
For the procedure you will be wearing a gown. The nurse will help you laying on your left side with your knees bent. The relaxing medication is given and the tube is inserted. The doctor inflates the intestines with air which may make you have some stomach cramping afterwards. Once the doctor has inspected your intestines you will be taken to a recovery area and watched by a nurse until you are safe to go home. The nurse will encourage you to pass gas. You will want to get all of the air the doctor put in your intestine out. They will also offer you some juice, pop, and possibly crackers to make sure you can eat ok before you leave.
- Preparation for the procedure will take at least 1 hour.
- The actual colonoscopy will take 30 to 60 minutes.
- Recovery takes on average 1 hour.
You will need someone to drive you to and from your procedure. They will need to stay with you for the remainder of the day. We are not always at our best after having the relaxing medication.
What to Expect after a Colonoscopy
Depending on what was found during the colonoscopy, your provider might tell you to follow a special die after the procedure. It is normal to feel bloated and pass a lot of gas. You may even see a small amount of blood in your first few stools. If you see a lot of blood, blood clots, or have stomach pain that won’t go away, call your doctor.
If biopsies were taken your doctor will call and tell you the results of the testing. Follow-up colonoscopies could be scheduled based on your what they found and the results of the testing on the tissue they biopsied.
Lastly, part of being prepared for a colonoscopy is making sure you share your concerns with and ask your doctor any questions you may have. Remember, you won’t be prepared for the procedure if you have concerns that have not been addressed or questions are unanswered.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Colorectal Cancer Screening Tests. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/colorectal/basic_info/screening/tests.htm
Mayo Clinic. (2021). Colonoscopy. https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/colonoscopy/about/pac-20393569