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Colonoscopy is a procedure that allows your gastroenterologist to look at your large bowel (colon). Millions of people get colonoscopies every year as colonoscopy is a safe, effective and well tolerated test. The test is performed using a colonoscope, which is a tube with a camera and a light on its end, that the doctor inserts to the end of your colon. The images are transmitted from the scope to a monitor so the doctor can see the entire colon. The scope also has a channel that the doctor can use to insert instruments and perform therapeutic interventions such as taking biopsies or removing polyps.
Colonoscopy is the best test used to screen for colon cancer. It allows us not only to find colon cancer but also colon polyps. Polyps are small growths in the colon that can turn into cancer but they usually take years to become cancer. Colonoscopy allows us to remove the polyps during the same procedure and prevent them from turning into cancer.
Colonoscopy is also used to evaluate and treat several other conditions such as inflammatory bowel diseases, hemorrhoids and other diseases of the colon.
Preparing for your colonoscopy:
You will receive specific instruction when you are scheduled for the procedure explaining the bowel preparation process. This usually requires that you stay on a clear liquid diet the day before the procedure. You will need to drink a bowel preparation to cleanse the colon. There are several preparations that can be used but they all require that you drink a laxative solution the evening before the procedure and usually a second dose the morning of the procedure. While you can work the day before the procedure, you will need to stay home in the evening to drink the prep as you will develop significant diarrhea. It is very important to follow the exact instructions and drink the entire bowel prep as having a good quality bowel preparation is key to ensure you have a safe, comfortable and effective procedure. If the bowel preparation quality is poor, polyps may be missed and your procedure may have to be cancelled.
Before the procedure, you will be evaluated by the anesthesia team and the nursing staff. You will be asked to put a gown on. An intravenous access will be placed and your vital signs checked. Your doctor will talk to you about the risks, benefits and alternatives of the procedure and you will be asked to sign an informed consent form to give the doctor permission to perform the procedure.
The colonoscopy is performed in a private room with only your gastroenterologist, the anesthesiologist and the nurse and tech assisting in the procedure present in the room. Sedation will be administered through the IV line and you will be asleep and comfortable. The colonoscope is inserted through the rectum into the colon and advanced to the end of the colon. Your doctor will then slowly withdraw the scope while carefully examining the colon. If a polyp is found it can be removed during the procedure.
After the procedure:
Colonoscopy usually takes less than 30 minutes. When the procedure is over, the sedation will be stopped and you will wake up and be taken to the recovery room. While some patients experience gas or bloating after the procedure, most patients wake up not even realizing that the procedure was already performed. After the sedation completely wears off, your doctor will talk to you about the procedure and discuss with you the findings and the recommendations.
You will need someone to take you home after the procedure as after receiving sedation you are not allowed to drive or go to work or leave the endoscopy unit by yourself. The next day you will be back to your normal routine.