A colonoscopy is an outpatient procedure in which the inside of the large intestine (colon and rectum) is examined. During a colonoscopy, a long, flexible tube (colonoscope) is inserted into the rectum. A tiny video camera at the tip of the tube allows the doctor to view the entire colon.
A colonoscopy is commonly used to evaluate gastrointestinal symptoms, such as rectal and intestinal bleeding, abdominal pain, or changes in bowel habits. It is also employed to check for colorectal polyps or cancer.
Excluding skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States. It is responsible for over 145,000 new cases and 51,000 deaths per year. The disease can affect people of all ages, but adults aged 50 and over are at the highest risk. Over 90% of people with colorectal cancer are over 40.
Gastrointestinal (GI) physicians urge adults over 50 years of age to undergo a colonoscopy. When detected early on, the disease has over a 90% survival rate. The American Cancer Society recently released a guideline update recommending that screening for average-risk adults begin at age 45.
Doctors may recommend earlier colonoscopy screenings for adults who have a higher risk of colon cancer. These risk factors can include:
- Familial polyposis syndrome (a hereditary condition linked to an increased risk of forming polyps)
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Having first-degree relatives with colon cancer
How to Prepare for a Colonoscopy
Before a colonoscopy, patients will need to cleanse and thoroughly empty their bowels. Any residue in the colon may obscure the physician’s view during the exam.
To empty the colon, patients may be asked to:
- Follow a special diet the day before the exam such as avoiding solid foods and limiting drinks to clear liquids
- Take a laxative
- Use an enema kit
- Adjust their medications, particularly with diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease
What to Expect During a Colonoscopy
A colonoscopy can often facilitate the effective treatment of colorectal issues and allow patients to avoid major surgery. An intravenous (IV) line may be placed in your arm so that medicines, including sedation, pain medicine, and antibiotics, can be administered.
During a colonoscopy, your GI doctor will insert a colonoscope into your rectum and up through the large intestine. Your colon will be inflated with air to stretch out the lining so that your doctor can check the entire surface. The colonoscope contains a tiny video camera at its tip. The camera sends images to an external monitor so that the doctor can study the inside of your colon. Your doctor can also insert instruments through the channel to take tissue samples (biopsies) or remove polyps or other abnormal tissue.
As part of the procedure, you’ll be asked to wear a hospital gown and will lie on your left side with your knees pulled up. You may be asked to change positions during the test. You may experience some cramping or feel like you need to have a bowel movement while the scope is in your colon. You may also feel and hear gas passing around the scope.
A colonoscopy takes roughly 20 to 45 minutes. However, extra time may be needed for samples to be taken or for polyps to be removed.
After a colonoscopy, it is normal to experience some mild abdominal cramping and passing of gas. You will remain at the clinic for one or two hours after the test, as you are monitored carefully by a nurse until you are awake and comfortable.
You won’t be allowed to leave the clinic by yourself or drive yourself home after the procedure. You’ll need to find someone you trust to take you back home. Also, ask your doctor when you can continue your regular diet, medicines, and activities.
Colonoscopy has a minimal risk of complication in most patients. Examples of complications known to be rarely associated include:
- Cramping or gas pain
- Damage to the intestinal wall or nearby structures
- Adverse reactions to the sedative or the laxative preparation
Most patients typically experience no pain after a colonoscopy and remain comfortable as the sedative wears off. You won’t be able to drive or operate machinery for 24 hours after the test.
If you have any questions or would like more information about colonoscopy or colorectal cancer, please contact us or call (239) 275-8882.