A colonoscopy involves the use of a colonoscope (a thin, flexible tube with a camera and a light at its tip) to examine the inside of the colon (large intestine). This procedure is often performed to determine the cause of blood in the stool, abdominal pain, diarrhea, a change in bowel habit, or an abnormality found on colon X-rays or CT scans.

Individuals with previous history of polyps or colon cancer, as well as individuals with a family history of some types of non-colonic cancers or colonic problems that may be associated with colon cancer, may be at greater risk for these dangerous issues. Therefore, it is advised that they undergo periodic colonoscopies.

What do I need to know for my colonoscopy?

BEFORE: Based on the specifics of your planned colonoscopy, your doctor will tell you what dietary restrictions to follow and what cleansing routine to use. In general, you will need to:

  • Limit your diet to clear liquids the day before
  • Consume either a large volume of a special cleansing solution or special oral laxatives

Your doctor will provide full preparation instructions to follow.

DURING: Typically, your doctor will administer a sedative or painkiller to help you relax during your colonoscopy. You will lie on your side or back while your doctor slowly advances a colonoscope along your large intestine to examine the lining. The procedure usually takes less than 45 minutes, but you should plan on 3-4 hours for the entire process, from check-in to recovery, to check-out. If the colonoscope cannot pass through the entire colon, your doctor may recommend additional testing.

AFTER: Once in the recovery area, you will be monitored until most of the effects of the sedatives have worn off. After, you might experience cramping or bloating due to the air introduced into the colon during the exam, but it should disappear quickly when you pass gas. Someone must drive you home and stay with you, even if you feel alert after the procedure. Your judgment and reflexes could be impaired for the rest of the day. You should be able to eat after the examination, but your doctor might restrict your diet and activities.