March 30, 2023

Colonoscopies: What to Expect

General Health

In our last article about colon screening, we talked about why regular colonoscopies are important. If you’re over 45, have symptoms, or are at above-average risk, it’s time to talk to your doctor about getting a colonoscopy.

It’s natural to feel some uneasiness going into the procedure, especially if this is your first one. In this article we’ll line out what you can expect from a colonoscopy—from prep to follow-up—so you feel prepared going in.

First things first—talk to your doctor. Your doctor will be able to schedule your colonoscopy, explain what you can expect from the procedure, and answer any questions in more detail. You and your doctor know your health best, so be up front with them when discussing scheduling your colonoscopy.

The Prep

The day before your procedure, your doctor will put you on a clear liquid diet. You’ll be able to drink water, clear broth, black coffee and tea, and jello, but no solid foods. The idea is that you don’t want anything in your bowel that will obstruct your doctor’s vision during the procedure.

You’ll also be prescribed a flavorless powdered laxative mixed with a sports drink. Although this is perhaps the most uncomfortable part of the entire process, advances mean that it is significantly more comfortable than it once was. The liquid is meant to flush out your system, so be prepared and stay near the toilet. You may feel some uncomfortable bloating from drinking the medication too quickly. If you start to feel queasy, give yourself a break for an hour, and then restart. If you aren’t used to drinking a lot of liquid, give your body some time to adjust.

The Day Of

The procedure itself takes about 20-30 minutes. You’ll be expected to arrive an hour before to go over everything with your doctor and get ready for the exam. Before the procedure begins, you’ll be given anesthesia that will put you to sleep. Some people might be worried the exam will be uncomfortable or painful, but you won’t feel a thing.

The exam itself involves your doctor using a long flexible tube called a colonoscope to look inside your colon and rectum. It has a camera on the end that allows your doctor to see any abnormalities that need to be removed. If any are found, your doctor will remove them, so you won’t have to undergo a second colonoscopy.

When it’s over, you’ll be required to stay a little longer so that the medical staff can monitor the after-effects of the anesthesia. All around, the visit to the clinic will take about two to three hours. It is required that you take off work and get someone to drive you home, so plan for that. Driving or operating heavy machinery is dangerous if you’ve had anesthesia on that day.

The Follow-Up

One of the reasons people are uneasy about getting their colonoscopy is the potential to receive bad news. Ironically, colonoscopies are the best way to ensure that you don’t receive bad news down the road. Colonoscopies not only detect colorectal cancer, but they prevent it. Any abnormalities found during your colonoscopy are automatically removed and tested to determine if they are precancerous. Having a colonoscopy means that your doctor knows how to monitor you and can make recommendations for regular screenings. It is better to know, be prepared, and take action than to avoid it until it is too late.

If you’re still concerned about the results, talk to your doctor. Everyone 45 and older should get a colonoscopy, so you are not alone. Take control of your health and stop cancer before it starts.