A colonoscopy is recommended as a screening for colon cancer for people over the age of 50. It can also be an investigative tool if you have been experiencing digestive issues, such as ongoing pain, chronic constipation, diarrhea or rectal bleeding. A colonoscopy might also be required if you have had polyps removed to ensure that there are no more present inside the colon.
Before the colonoscopy procedure, you will need to do some prep work to ensure that your colon is emptied out so that the doctor can have a clear view of your intestine. The day before the exam, your doctor will issue a special diet consisting of clear liquids, such as coffee, tea, broth and carbonated beverages. You should avoid anything red that could be mistaken for blood during the exam. For a period of time before the exam, usually midnight of the night before, your doctor will recommend that you abstain from eating. In addition, to clear out your intestinal tract, you will also need to take a laxative in addition to performing an enema. These steps ensure a clear colon, and a clear view for the exam.
Make sure that your doctor knows of any medications that you take on a regular basis. Some medications can interact with the results of the exam and should be stopped or taken at a lower dosage to avoid interfering or causing potential complications for the procedure.
After you have completed your at-home prep work, you will be given instructions for the procedure itself. You will likely wear a hospital gown for the procedure, and it is usually recommended that you are sedated for the procedure to eliminate possible discomfort or pain. Sedation methods include a pill and/or an intravenous medication. You will then be instructed to lie on the exam table, probably on your side with your knees pulled into your chest. This will allow the doctor to insert the colonscope instrument into your rectum with minimal difficulty and discomfort.
The scope is long enough to go through the length of your colon and has a camera with a light on the end of it to allow your doctor to view your intestines on a screen. If necessary, the scope also allows the doctor the ability to use instruments to biopsy any suspicious matter as well as to remove polyps along the way. The duration of the procedure can last from 20 minutes to an hour.
Once the procedure is finished, you will need further time for the sedative to wear off. It is recommended that you do not drive yourself home or go to work that day. Sometimes gas and bloating can occur, but can usually be walked off. If your doctor has removed polyps or removed biopsy material, you may be told to enjoy a special diet for a short while.
On occasion, you may find that your first stool post-procedure contains a small amount of blood. This is not anything to worry about, and things should return to normal. If you continue to have bloody stools, experience blood clots, develop a high fever or experience pain in your digestive system, call your doctor.
Your doctor will review the results of your exam, and share them with you. In some cases, a second procedure may be necessary if the results are unclear or the doctor was unable to fit the scope throughout your colon.