A colonoscopy is a diagnostic test that allows a doctor to see the inside of your colon and rectum. It’s used to screen for polyps or cancer, and to help determine the underlying cause of symptoms such as abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, or changes in bowel habits.
Find out more about how to prepare for a colonoscopy and what you can expect during the exam.
Before a Colonoscopy
One of the most important preparations you’ll need to make before a colonoscopy is to make sure your lower intestine is empty so that the inner walls of your colon can be seen during the exam. To ensure your bowels are empty, you may be asked to:
- Reduce or eliminate solid foods for a day and drink only clear liquids
- Take laxatives by mouth
- Not eat or drink anything after midnight before your colonoscopy.
- Discontinue aspirin, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications and certain other medications eight days before your colonoscopy. Discuss all of your medications with your physician prior to scheduling your colonoscopy
Your physician will give you specific instructions on what you need to do to prepare for the procedure. In addition to cleansing your colon, you may be given antibiotics before having a colonoscopy. You might receive antibiotics before your procedure if you have certain types of artificial heart valves or have had to take antibiotics in the past before other dental or surgical procedures. If you have other ongoing conditions, like hemorrhoids during a colonoscopy, you should discuss them with your doctor.
What to Expect During a Colonoscopy
You will be asked to lie on your left side on an exam table and will be given a sedative to help you feel more relaxed. The doctor will then insert a colonoscope, a long and flexible tube, into your rectum. The colonoscope is about ½ inch in diameter and has a light and a camera on the end that allows the doctor to see an image of the inside of your colon on a monitor in the exam room. The colonoscope will be advanced through your rectum into your colon. If you have polyps, which are growths on the wall of the colon, they will most likely be removed at this time. Other lesions such as a colon cancer can be biopsied for evaluation under the microscope. There are many other conditions that can be diagnosed or treated during the colonoscopy. At the conclusion of your colonoscopy, the scope is solely withdrawn and all surfaces of your colon are examined again.
After the procedure, you will be observed in a recovery room for about 30 minutes before being sent home. You might feel some cramping or bloating during this time from the air that was used to expand your colon during the exam, but this should pass quickly. You’ll be able to resume a normal diet as soon as you are released. Your doctor will tell you if any special dietary changes need to be made. Plan to have someone available to drive you home as you may still be drowsy from the sedative.