What is a colonoscopy?
A colonoscopy is an endoscopic exam, during which a long, flexible tube is inserted into the rectum. The tube allows your doctor to view the inside of the colon, and if needed, remove polyps or abnormal tissue. Also called a coloscopy, the exam can help identify problems in the intestine, like abdominal pain or blood in stool, and screen for colon cancer. If you’re age 50 or older, your doctor may recommend a colonoscopy every 10 years, or sometimes more frequently.
What to expect with a colonoscopy
A day or two before your appointment, your doctor will likely ask you to limit or not eat any solid foods. You will also be given an enema or a solution that will cause you to go to the bathroom to flush out your rectum and lower intestine.
When you arrive at the hospital or outpatient medical facility, you will put on a hospital gown. Then nurses give you a medication through your veins that will make you relaxed and sleepy. In the exam room, the doctor will ask you to lie on your side. While you're sedated by the medicine, the doctor will insert a long, flexible tube, about a half-inch wide. It will show an image of your colon lining. The scope also blows air into your colon. This expands it and makes it easier for the doctor to examine you. You may experience mild cramping during the procedure.
The doctor will look for anything that's not normal in your colon, including growths known as polyps. Your doctor may remove a small amount of tissue from the inside of your colon to test more. This procedure is called a biopsy.
After the procedure, it will take up to an hour for the sedation to wear off. Be sure you have someone to drive you home, as it is unsafe to operate a car during this time. You may feel bloated as excess air leaves your colon. Walking and gentle twists will help. If your doctor removed a polyp, you may notice a little blood in your stool, which is normal. If you have persistent pain, bleeding or develop a fever in the week after your appointment, call your doctor immediately.
Be sure to tell your doctor if you're pregnant, have allergies to certain medicines, have diabetes or heart or lung conditions. You may need to take antibiotics before the procedure if you have an artificial heart valve or have been told you have to take antibiotics before other surgeries.
Common conditions requiring a colonoscopy
If you complain of pain in your stomach, bleeding when you go to the bathroom, trouble going to the bathroom or have chronic diarrhea, your doctor will likely want to investigate using a colonoscopy.
If you have no signs and symptoms, you may still have a colonoscopy every 10 years after the age of 50 so your doctor can screen for colon cancer. If you have had polyps previously, a colonoscopy will be used to look for and remove additional polyps.