How to Prepare for a Colonoscopy

Medically reviewed by: Gary H. Hoffman, MD

Are you at least 50 years old?  Or experiencing colorectal cancer symptoms, like diarrhea, constipation, cramps, and bloody stools? Did your doctor recommend that you have a colonoscopy? But you chose to ignore that request? Many people who should have such a screening or surveillance,  do not follow through with it. . They may fear the actual procedure or the preparation for it – or both. However, a colonoscopy is critical because it can spot or possibly prevent colon cancer.

During a colonoscopy, a colonoscope is passed through your rectum and around your large bowel, also known as the colon. . The colonoscope is a thin and flexible tube with a tiny camera attached that lets medical professionals see inside your bowels. A colonoscopy is performed to find possible abnormalities, including polyps or cancers. Don’t avoid getting a colonoscopy out of fear. You will discover that you had nothing to fear, but glad you checked on your health. To ease your nerves, here’s how to prepare for a colonoscopy. Basically, it breaks down into two sections: what you can and can’t drink and eat before the procedure – which result in breaking down your bowels.

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What You Can/Can’t Eat

Preparing for a colonoscopy involves knowing what you can and can’t eat for several days before the procedure. For a few days before the colonoscopy, you are encouraged to follow a low-fiber diet. Try eating the following and other low-fiber foods:

  • Muffins
  • Bagels
  • Pasta
  • Cottage cheese
  • Chicken
  • Eggs
  • Fish

But avoid these and similar foods:

  • Vegetables
  • Brown rice
  • Nuts
  • Popcorn
  • Tomatoes

The day before your colonoscopy, you are not allowed to eat any solid foods. So, enjoy a slice of pizza, salad, or your favorite food before then. Up until two hours before the procedure, you can enjoy Jell-O and popsicles.  However, avoid red or purple foods and drinks. Only those though that are yellow or green are allowed because foods and drinks containing red or purple dye can affect the appearance of the lining of your colon and the results of the screening.   (Red or orange dye in jello can look like blood on a colonoscopy.)

If you are unsure and confused about what you can or can’t eat and when, contact your doctor. They may be able to provide a sample meal plan that you can follow.

What You Can Drink, But Don’t Want To

This is the part that most people dread when preparing for a colonoscopy – not being able to eat the day of it and having to drink liquid laxatives.

The afternoon or evening before the day of your colonoscopy, you need to consume the medication prescribed by your doctor.  Many of the newer preparations have a surprisingly good taste and are easy to consume. Your physician should be able to discuss these newer purgatives with you.

Clear liquids are easy to digest and do not leave undigested remains in your intestines. On the day of your colonoscopy, you need to follow an all-liquid diet, which includes:

  • Clear broth
  • Water
  • Tea
  • Apple or white grape juice
  • Soft drinks
  • Sports drinks

Like the food, avoid liquids that are red or purple. Also, don’t drink anything at least two hours before the colonoscopy.

Time on the Toilet

Within two to three hours, or possibly longer, after drinking the laxative formula, you will begin to experience bowel movements. If you do not have a bowel movement after a few hours, then you may need to drink even more of the laxative liquid.

It takes several hours before your bowels are fully flushed. But you want to make sure your colon is empty for the colonoscopy to be effective and accurate. Just like a moving sale, everything must go!

If your colon is not empty and clean:

  • Polyps and lesions that are cancerous or can become cancer may not be visible and missed.
  • It takes longer to complete the colonoscopy, which can lead to complications.
  • The colonoscopy  may need to be repeated or rescheduled.

Going to the bathroom so often can affect your rectum. Before you begin the cleansing, purchase medicated wipes to use rather than regular toilet paper. Also, if your rectum begins to burn, apply cortisone cream to the affected area.

Preparation is Key

Properly preparing for a colonoscopy is vital. Yes, a colonoscopy is an inconvenience and not pleasant, but it’s only temporary. Just look forward to what you plan to enjoy eating afterwards and think about how you are doing something for the benefit of your health.

Now that you know how to prepare for a colonoscopy, why not contact your doctor to schedule one?

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