Sometimes we put off medical tests because we are scared they will hurt or be uncomfortable. (Yes, I am talking to you.) You know you are due for your colonoscopy but just can’t make yourself pick up the phone. The horror stories you have heard about the prep and the test are keeping you from making the appointment. Why? Fear. The fear of the unknown.
It is normal to be nervous about having a colonoscopy. But, you still need to get it done. I thought today I would share what happens during the procedure. If you have any questions, ask your doctor!
A colonoscopy is performed by a gastroenterologist. Under anesthesia, they insert a long, flexible, narrow tube with a light and tiny camera to look inside the colon and rectum. With this, the doctor can find ulcers, polyps, or irritated, swollen tissue in your intestine.
How to prepare for your colonoscopy
- Tell your doctor what medications you are taking – both over the counter and prescribed.
- Arrange to have someone drive you home after the test
- Follow the doctor’s instructions for the test prep
The test prep is what most people are afraid of. You always hear horror stories about how they spent hours in the bathroom with diarrhea and how horrible the drink they give you is. Do you know why you have to prep? The prep cleans out the intestines so the doctor can see everything.
While the doctor will give you specific instructions, normally they can include the following:
- Clear diet 1-3 days prior
- Laxatives or enemas the day prior
- Special drink that needs to be taken at certain times prior to the procedure
What happens during a colonoscopy?
The test is usually performed at an outpatient center. You will usually be given light anesthesia to relax. There will be medical staff on hand to monitor your vitals and to make you as comfortable as possible. An IV will be placed in your arm to administer anesthesia prior to the test.
You will lie on a table as the doctor inserts the thin, flexible scope into your body and looks at your rectum and colon. The scope can inflate the intestines with air to allow the doctor to see better. The camera will project onto a computer screen that the doctor looks at to examine tissue closely. When the scope reaches the small intestines, the doctor removes it slowly while examining the large intestines again.
If you have polyps, the doctor can remove these and send them to pathology for testing. Polyps are common and usually harmless, but most colon cancers begin as a polyp. Removing these is a way to prevent cancer. The doctor might also perform a biopsy of your tissue. You will not feel the polyp removal or biopsy.
Colonoscopies usually take 30-60 minutes, from start to finish. As Don’s doctor told us, patients often ask “when do we start?” when the procedure has already been completed!
- A short stay (1 hour or so) might be required after the procedure
- Cramping or bloating may occur
- Anesthesia takes awhile to wear off, so you may be woozy
- Full recovery is expected by the next day
- Instructions will be given at discharge
- You might get pictures of your colon!
- Normal diet can usually be resumed right away
- Someone should drive you home afterwards
- If polyps removal or biopsy was performed, light bleeding is normal
- Some results are available immediately, biopsies and pathology reports will take a few days
Your doctor will go over the specific requirements and guidelines. Remember to call your doctor with any questions or concerns. Your doctor will tell you signs to look out for and what to do if complications arise.
What are you waiting for? There is nothing to fear. Pick up the phone and make the appointment today. A short “nap” could save your life.