Preparing for a Colonoscopy

Prior to a colonoscopy, you’ll need to empty your colon. This could include a special diet, fasting, a laxative or an enema. You may also need to adjust your medication dosages.

What Happens During a Colonoscopy?

A colonoscopy takes about 20 minutes to an hour. You’ll wear a gown and be given a sedative intravenously or by pill to help you relax. You’ll feel slightly drowsy but should not feel discomfort. You’ll lie down on your side with knees pulled to your chest. The colonoscope, long enough to go the entire length of your colon, is placed inside your body through the anus. The colonoscope has a light and tiny video camera attached to its tip. You may feel cramping or slight pressure as the instrument is introduced or moved. The instrument also has a tube which inflates the colon allowing the doctor to get a precise view. The doctor can see the inside of your colon from pictures projected on a monitor.

What Happens After a Colonoscopy?

It takes about an hour to recover from the sedative. You’ll need someone to drive you home. You may need the entire next day for the sedative to completely wear off. Feeling bloated, flatulence, headache, nausea and a small amount of blood in your first bowel movement following the exam are not unusual. Walking and drinking plenty of liquids is a good way to alleviate some of the discomfort.

Colonoscopy Results

A negative result means the doctor did not find anything abnormal in your colon. If you are at average risk for colon cancer with no other risk factors besides age, your doctor may recommend another colonoscopy in 10 years.

A positive result occurs when abnormal tissue or polyps are found. Polyps taken out during a colonoscopy are sent to a lab to see if they are cancerous, precancerous or benign. If cancerous or precancerous polyps were removed during your colonoscopy, you many need another colonoscopy within three months to a year.

If polyps were found that are noncancerous, the size and amount of polyps could determine the time for your next colonoscopy. Fewer and smaller polyps could require another colonoscopy in five to 10 years while larger and more polyps could require the procedure to be done again in three to five years.