Information about colonoscopies
A colonoscopy is a procedure that lets your physicians look into your large intestine to detect polyps or diseases of the intestines, inflamed tissue, ulcers and bleeding. A screening colonoscopy can be used to prevent colon cancer by removing polyps which are small grape like growths on the lining of the colon.
The American Cancer Society recommends a screening colonoscopy for anyone 50 years of age and older (45 for African Americans), and for anyone with a significant family history of colon polyps or cancer.
After lung and breast cancer, colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer deaths in women in the United States. Annually approximately 130,000 new cases of colorectal cancer are diagnosed in the United States and 56,000 people die from the disease. Estimates are that increased screening could save 30,000 lives each year.
What happens before a colonoscopy
Before your colonoscopy your bowel must be empty so the physician doing the procedure has a clear view of the colon walls. This is one of the most important things you can do to ensure a successful exam. You will be given instructions from the office that you should follow for at least two weeks before your procedure. You will be given a prescription for a preparation to clean out your colon. This preparation will be taken with large amounts of fluids. You will have several bowel movements that will be liquid. You may have some nausea or even vomit while taking the preparation. You should slow down and wait 30 minutes before drinking more fluid. You may also have some skin irritation around the anus because of the liquid bowel movements. Desitin or Vaseline usually will help. You must follow your instructions very carefully. Do not drink for several hours before going for your procedure. Your instructions given to you at the office will tell you exactly when to stop drinking and eating.
A colonoscopy poses few risks. Rarely, complications of a colonoscopy may include:
- Adverse reaction to the sedative used during the exam
- Bleeding from the site where a tissue sample (biopsy) was taken or a polyp or other abnormal tissue was removed
- A tear in the colon or rectum wall (perforation)
After discussing the risks of colonoscopy with you, your doctor will ask you to sign a consent form authorizing the procedure.
When you arrive at the Center an intravenous will be started and you will be prepared for your procedure.
When you go into the exam room, you will be given sedation to make you sleep.
What happens during a colonoscopy
During the colonoscopy, the physician uses a flexible, slender tube (about ½ inch in diameter) which is inserted into the rectum to look inside the colon so the physician can examine the lining and look for any abnormalities. The colonoscope goes from the rectum to the end of the large intestine. Air is also blown into the colon in order to flatten out the lining and helps the physician see the walls. You may feel mild cramping and the need to pass the air following the procedure.
If there are any abnormalities seen, the physician uses instruments that are passed through the scope and will be used to treat any bleeding, remove polyps or take biopsies.
The procedure lasts approximately one half hour.
What happens after a colonoscopy
After your colonoscopy you will return to the post operative area. You will be observed for a short amount of time to make sure you feel ok. Because of sedation, you will need to have a family member or friend drive you home. You should avoid alcohol, driving and operating machinery for 24 after the procedure. Depending on what the physician did during the procedure, you should eat a light diet for the rest of the day. The day after the procedure you will be able to eat normally and return to normal activities. Your physican will discuss any medications that you normally take and when you can resume taking these medications.
If you have any abdominal pain, fever or rectal bleeding up to two weeks following your procedure you should get to the emergency room and they will call your physician who performed the procedure.