A colonoscopy is a diagnostic visual examination of the inner lining of the colon, also known as the large intestine. A colonoscopy is used by gastroenterologists to discover potential causes of abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, chronic diarrhea and other intestinal issues. A colonoscopy is also used to detect colon cancer and early possible signs of cancer, such as colon polyps.
A gastroenterologist (GI) uses a colonoscope, a flexible tube with a small light and camera attached. This allows the GI doctor to properly see the inside of the entire colon. During a colonoscopy, tissue samples may be collected for a biopsy, and abnormal growths may be removed.
Both men and women are recommended to schedule regular colonoscopies beginning at age 50 and continue to get a colonoscopy every 10 years for colon cancer screening. Patients who have a family history of colon cancer or other colon cancer risk should start screening earlier.
If your doctor finds polyps during your colonoscopy, he or she can remove them during the procedure. This involves passing an instrument through the scope to remove the polyp, which is sent to a laboratory to be examined.
You should not feel anything if a biopsy or polyp is taken, and there should be no recovery pain. Polyps are small growths in the lining of the colon that approximately 25 percent of healthy individuals develop by age 50. Although the majority of polyps are benign, your gastroenterologist will have you schedule a time to confirm the results when your pathology results are ready. Since most colon cancer begins as a benign polyp, the possibility of the polyp growing into cancer is eliminated when it is removed.
Comprehensive cleansing of the entire bowel is crucial for effective results in order to avoid the need for retesting. Specific instructions will be provided by your physician, but this may include a combination of: restriction from eating solid foods a day or two before the colonoscopy and taking laxatives.
The following recommendations are general guidelines, but your physician may have varying instructions for your specific procedure. Please confirm with your physician the details of your prep instructions.
You will not be able to eat or drink the day of the procedure (not even water or chewing gum). You may be told to stop taking certain medications for several days before the procedure as well. Please alert your doctor if you require antibiotics prior to dental procedures because this may also necessitate antibiotics before your colonoscopy.
The day prior to your procedure, a clear liquid diet must be followed. This includes water, clear sodas without caffeine, fat-free chicken or beef broth, and coffee or tea without added milk or cream. Some gastroenterologists have added limitations or allowances, so make sure to follow your doctor’s individual instructions. Finally, you need to arrange for someone to drive you home afterward because the lingering effects of the sedation will make it unsafe for you to drive until the following day.
To be positive that you are comfortable and relaxed, you will be given intravenous (IV) sedation. Most patients are asleep during the entire process and remember little to nothing about it.
When it is time to begin, you will be asked to lie on your side. Once sedation takes effect, the colonoscope is inserted through the rectum and moved gently around the colon. The scope has a small camera on the end, and images are projected onto a screen while your doctor completes the procedure. He or she will also puff air into your colon so it expands for a better view. Biopsies (samples of tissue) may be taken, and if any polyps are found, your doctor may remove those as well.
The entire procedure typically takes 20 to 60 minutes, depending on the complexities the doctor encounters when they start the procedure. You will be moved to a recovery area while the sedation wears off. Your doctor will talk to you about your test and any findings. This may include inflammation, ulceration, or other irregularities.
Depending on the type of sedation used for your procedure, it can take 30 minutes to an hour to recover from the sedation. You may experience some cramping or pass gas, but these are normal. You can eat light, soft foods after you leave the doctor’s office. You will need somebody to drive you home since it can take up to a day for the effects of the sedative to wear off completely. You should be able to resume normal activity the following day. If a polyp was removed during your colonoscopy, your doctor may put you on a special diet temporarily. Make sure to follow your doctor’s specific instructions after your colonoscopy.
Your gastroenterologist may recommend having a follow-up colonoscopy depending on the size and number of polyps found. If there were no polyps, your next colonoscopy will need to be in 7-10 years, but it can be sooner depending on your family history and other risk factors.
Call your GI doctor right away if you have any of the following after your colonoscopy: