What is colonoscopy?
It is a safe, effective means of visually examining the full lining of the colon and rectum, using a long, flexible, tubular instrument. It is used to diagnose colon and rectum problems and to perform biopsies and remove colon polyps. Most colonoscopies are done on an outpatient basis with minimal inconvenience and discomfort.
Who should have a colonoscopy?
Your physician may recommend a colonoscopy exam if you have change in bowel habit or bleeding, indicating a possible problem in the colon or rectum.
A colonoscopy is also necessary to:
- Check unexplained abdominal symptoms
- Check inflammatory bowel disease (colitis)
- Verify findings of polyps or tumors located with a barium enema exam or other screening procedure
- Examine patients who test positive for blood in the stool
- Monitor patients with a past history or family history of colon polyps or cancer
How is colonoscopy performed?
The bowel must first be thoroughly cleared of all residue before a colonoscopy.
This is done one to two days before the exam as prescribed by your physician.
The colonoscope is inserted and when possible will be advanced to the portion of the colon where the small intestine enters. During a complete examination of the bowel, your physician will remove polyps or take biopsies as necessary.
The entire procedure usually takes less than an hour. There is little pain; however, mild sedation is given when necessary to relieve anxiety and discomfort. Following the colonoscopy, there may be slight discomfort, which quickly improves with the expelling of gas. Most patients can resume their regular diet later that day.
What are the benefits and risks of colonoscopy?
With colonoscopy, it is now possible to detect and remove most polyps without abdominal surgery. Colonoscopy is more accurate than an x-ray exam of the colon to detect polyps or early cancer. Frequently, polyps can be removed at the same time, a major step towards the prevention of colon cancer. There is a small (less than 0.1% or 1 in 1000 chance) that the colonoscopic procedure may cause a perforation of the colon. These rare perforations may be observed and may heal over time. Or, an immediate operation to repair the perforation may be required.
REPRINTED FROM THE AMERICAN SOCIETY OF COLON AND RECTAL SURGEONS WEBSITE.