Colonoscopy FAQs

It is normal to have questions leading up to your colonoscopy, especially if you’ve never had one before.

To help answer some of your questions, we’ve put together a list frequently asked questions about colonoscopies and what to expect. We hope this information is helpful in deciding whether or not to have a colonoscopy and preparing for the procedure.


General

Answer

When should I have a colonoscopy or other colorectal cancer screening method?

Everyone over the age of 50 should undergo recommended colorectal cancer screening until the age of 75. However, your doctor may recommend screening before the age of 50 if you:

  • Have had colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer in the past.
  • Have close family members with a history of colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer.
  • Have inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, or ulcerative colitis.
  • Have a genetic condition that increases your chance of colon cancer, such as familial adenomatous polyposis and hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (Lynch syndrome).

How often should I get a colonoscopy?

Colonoscopies are recommended every 10 years from the age of 50. However, your physician will provide information on follow-up procedures based on your needs.

Are colonoscopies safe?

Complications are rare with colonoscopies, but as with any medical procedure, there are some risks. Although every possible precaution is taken to keep the patient safe during a colonoscopy, there is a small risk of bleeding, bowel tears, and infection.

What might a colonoscopy detect?

Colonoscopy can detect abnormalities in the colon and rectum, such as polyps, that may lead to colorectal cancer. Early detection and removal of polyps reduce your chances of developing colorectal cancer.

Preparing for a Colonoscopy

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Why do I have to avoid certain foods and drinks before my colonoscopy?

Your colon must be completely clear to allow for the greatest possible visibility of your colon during the colonoscopy. Certain food and beverages can also mimic the appearance of blood or abnormalities in the colon, and so should be avoided prior to the procedure. Please follow the specific instructions provided by your physician.

What can I eat the day before a colonoscopy?

While you will need to avoid solid foods the day before your colonoscopy, you may have clear liquids like water, clear broth, coffee and tea (without milk), ice, or gelatin (except red gelatin) up to several hours before the procedure. Please follow the specific instructions provided by your physician.

What should I avoid before a colonoscopy?

You should avoid high-fiber foods up to one week before your colonoscopy, and you should completely avoid solid foods the day before your colonoscopy. Clear liquids are allowed (see above question), but purple and red liquids should be avoided as they can be mistaken for blood in the colon. Please follow the specific instructions provided by your physician.

How can I make colonoscopy prep more pleasant?

There are several ways to make the colonoscopy prep taste more pleasant. You may refrigerate the solution, but do not add ice. You can also mix in powdered sugar-free drink flavoring packets, but avoid anything that produces a red or purple color.

During the Procedure

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Will I be awake during the colonoscopy procedure?

A colonoscopy can be performed while you are awake, but you may also be put to sleep during the procedure. Even if you are awake, you may be given sedation to help you relax.

How long does a colonoscopy take?

Colonoscopy is typically a short procedure, generally lasting 20 minutes to an hour. However, procedure times can vary from patient to patient.

What happens if my doctor finds polyps during a colonoscopy?

If your doctor finds polyps or abnormalities during the colonoscopy, he or she may take a biopsy or remove the polyp during the procedure.

Will my colonoscopy be painful?

You will be given medications to keep you comfortable, so you should not feel pain during your colonoscopy. If you do feel pain, you should tell your doctor.

After a Colonoscopy

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What do I do if my colonoscopy results are normal?

Even if your doctor does not detect any polyps or abnormalities, you should continue to receive regular colonoscopies every 10 years. To increase your chances of normal results for subsequent colonoscopies, try these tips to help you avoid colorectal cancer.

What can I expect after a colonoscopy?

It is normal to experience bloating and gas cramps after your colonoscopy. You may also be groggy from sedation, so you should arrange to have someone drive you home. If your doctor took a biopsy or removed polyps, you should receive your results within 2 weeks.

How long does abdominal discomfort last after a colonoscopy?

In most cases, abdominal discomfort is caused by gas. This is common in the hours following the exam. Walking typically helps to relieve this discomfort. If abdominal discomfort persists, is severe, or is accompanied by fever, contact your doctor immediately.

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