As both a preventative measure and disease-detecting procedure, a colonoscopy gauges the health of the large intestine, or colon.
Patients are generally advised to get their first colonoscopy at the age of 50, but one may be prescribed sooner for patients whose personal or family history includes colon cancer, gastrointestinal bleeding, or other lower-GI issues.
The goal of the colonoscopy is to detect the presence of inflammation, ulcers, and polyps (slow-growing clusters of cells) in the large intestine. This is accomplished with a colonoscope – a thin, flexible tube that is equipped with a lighted camera. This process is not painful because the patient will be administered sedatives.
If the colonoscopy reveals polyps or suspicious growths, the doctor will remove these lesions during the procedure. A colonoscopy can help prevent cancer by allowing polyps to be removed immediately upon detection before they have had a chance to grow.
A colonoscopy is an outpatient procedure, but the patient will require a ride home due to the sedation.
One primary reason people avoid colonoscopies is their fear of the preparation experience. However, preparation has come a long way and is not as unpleasant as it used to be. Read here about “Dispelling myths about colonoscopy preparation.”
On the day before the colonoscopy, the patient will need to fully vacate his/her colon. This includes fasting by limiting nutrients primarily to clear liquids and broth. The patient also will be prescribed a preparation kit that will empty the bowels completely over the course of several hours. The doctor will advise on when to take this medication depending on the time of the colonoscopy.
The colonoscopy typically takes just 15-20 minutes after sedation takes effect. After the procedure, the patient will remain in the care of medical staff until the sedative wears off. At this point, the doctor will review the initial results with the patient, letting him or her know if polyps or anything else unusual was found. If a biopsy is ordered, results typically take a week to come back.
Typically, the patient will not have any symptoms post procedure, but may have cramping, gas, and bloating, which are normal side effects. The patient should be expected to be able to resume a normal diet after the procedure.
Conditions treated or diagnosed by this procedure:
- Colon/colorectal cancer
- Gastrointestinal bleeding
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
The following resources may be helpful:
Colonoscopy: What Patients Can Expect
The Value of a Colonoscopy – English