What to Expect
It is normal to be concerned about what will happen as you prepare for a colonoscopy.
Knowing what to expect beforehand can help you to adequately prepare for a colonoscopy. Proper preparation is important to help ensure that your doctor is able to view all areas of the colon to detect any abnormalities. Talk to your doctor before the test to learn more about how your procedure will be performed.
Before the Procedure
Prior to preparation, tell your doctor about any medications you are currently taking as your doctor may advise on any adjustments.
To prepare for a colonoscopy, your colon must be completely cleaned out to allow for the greatest visibility of the inside of the colon. Your doctor will give you detailed preparation instructions prior to your colonoscopy. It is important to follow these instructions completely to ensure that the procedure goes as smoothly as possible.
Many people find drinking the laxative solution to be the most unpleasant part of a colonoscopy, rather than the procedure itself. To make the solution easier to drink, you can:
- Refrigerate the solution, but do not add ice.
- Drink it through a straw.
- Add powdered sugar-free drink flavoring packets.
Before leaving for your colonoscopy, you may be asked to arrange for someone to help you home once the procedure is complete. Even though you will be awake when you leave, the medications administered during the procedure produce effects similar to alcohol and can cloud your judgement and affect your reflexes.
Preparation for a colonoscopy may include the following instructions from your physician:
- Avoid solid food for one day prior to the test, and drink plenty of clear fluids the day before the test. Clear liquids like water, clear broth, coffee and tea (without milk), ice, or gelatin (except red gelatin) may be consumed up to several hours before the procedure.
- Avoid red and purple liquids, as they can be mistaken for blood in the colon during the procedure.
- You may need to avoid high-fiber foods, including seeds and nuts, for up to a week prior to your colonoscopy.
- You may need to drink a strong laxative solution and empty your bowels to clean your colon sufficiently for the procedure.
During Your Colonoscopy
Medications may be administered to promote relaxation and keep you comfortable during the procedure.
During the procedure, a flexible tube called a colonoscope is inserted through the rectum into the colon. The tube is about the diameter of an index finger, and is lubricated to allow for easier insertion. Your doctor will then gently pump air or CO2 and sterilized water or saline through the colonoscope to inflate the colon so that the entire lining can be viewed.
If your doctor finds any abnormal areas, he or she may take a biopsy. If there are any polyps present, they may be removed as well. Polyps are tissue growths that are generally benign, but can develop into cancer if they are allowed to grow.
After Your Colonoscopy
Following your colonoscopy, you will be moved to a recovery area until the effects of the medication have worn off. You may continue to feel bloated and have gas cramps. It is completely normal to pass gas both during and after the procedure–it is actually encouraged that you pass gas, as it will relieve the bloating and cramps.
Medications may make you groggy or limit your activities; follow your doctor’s advice. If you had to stop taking any medications prior to the test, your doctor will advise you on when you should resume those medications. If your doctor took any biopsies or removed any polyps, you will generally get those results within 1 – 2 weeks.
With any medical procedure there is a risk of complications. With colonoscopy, complications are rare, but you should call your doctor immediately if you experience severe abdominal pain, a firm, bloated abdomen, vomiting, fever, or rectal bleeding.