What Is a Colonoscopy?

A colonoscopy is the visual examination of the large intestine (colon) using a lighted, flexible fiberoptic or video endoscope. The colon has a number of functions including the removal of water from the liquid stool that enters it so that a formed stool subsequently occurs.

Why Do I Need a Colonoscopy?

The colon can sometimes become a site for many different diseases to develop. A colonoscopy helps you and your physician find these problems so that they can be treated. Some common colon conditions include, but are not limited to:

  • Colon cancer: a serious but highly curable cancer if diagnosed early
  • Polyps: a fleshy tumor that can sometimes be a precursor to colon cancer
  • Colitis (Ulcerative or Crohn’s): a chronic or recurring inflammation of the colon
  • Diverticulosis: tiny sacs that develop on the colon wall that can become infected or cause bleeding
  • Sites of bleeding
  • Abdominal pain
  • Abnormal barium X-ray exam
  • Chronic diarrhea

What Are the Benefits of a Colonoscopy?

A colonoscopy allows doctors to make a diagnosis and sometimes correct a problem during the examination.

Is There An Alternative To a Colonoscopy?

Yes. The alternative is to have a combination of a barium enema (X-ray test of the colon) and a flexible sigmoidoscopy (a test similar to a colonoscopy that examines only the last 1-2 feet of the colon).

Please keep in mind that a bowel preparation is still required for this test, but there is normally no sedation.

This test also does not allow for biopsies to be taken or for polyps to be removed.

Are There Side Effects and/or Risks to a Colonoscopy?

No test is 100% accurate, and if it is performed infrequently, some abnormalities could be missed. Overall, a colonoscopy is a very safe procedure, and complications are rare. Some of these risks may occur:

  • A temporary feeling of bloating
  • Minimal bleeding after a biopsy or removal of a polyp
  • Oversedation (occurs very infrequently and can always be reversed)
  • Localized irritation of the vein can occur at the IV site resulting in a tender lump that could last several weeks

More serious and even less frequent complications include:

  • Complications of an underlying heart or lung disease
  • Reactions to one of the sedatives
  • Perforation or a colon tear (exceedingly rare)
  • Hemorrhage

Any of these complications could involve hospitalization, emergency surgery, or, in an exceptionally rare case, death.

What Will Happen When I Arrive for My Colonoscopy?

  • A brief medical history will be reviewed with you by a nurse.
  • You will provide a list of any current medications you are taking along with any allergies you have to medications.
  • You will be asked to remove your clothing and change into a patient gown.

What Will Happen During My Colonoscopy?

  • An intravenous (IV) catheter will be placed in your hand or forearm so that medication can be given for sedation. Most of the effects of the sedation last for 15-60 minutes, and you may not be able to recall the procedure afterwards. 
  • Once you are relaxed, you will be positioned on your left side on a stretcher. Lubrication will be applied to the rectal opening. 
  • The colonoscope will then be inserted and advanced through the colon. The procedure will take about one half hour. 
  • To improve visualization, air will be introduced into the colon. This may cause a feeling of fullness and slight cramping. 
  • If a polyp is found, it can usually be removed. Biopsies may be taken and sent for analysis.

What Will Happen After My Colonoscopy?

  • You will remain in the recovery room area for one half to one hour after the procedure depending on your vital signs and level of consciousness.
  • You may feel bloated from the air used during the procedure.
  • The medication given to you during the procedure may affect your reflexes and judgment.
  • Following the exam, your physician will discuss the results with you and your loved ones.
  • You should not drive a car, operate machinery, or make any legally-binding decisions for the remainder of the day.

What Else Should I Know About My Colonoscopy?

  • If you are on blood thinner medication, such as Coumadin® or warfarin, it is important to let us know well in advance of your appointment. If you are currently taking these medications and have not already given that information to our office, please call immediately. A nurse will contact you with instructions about taking your Coumadin® prior to this procedure.
  • YOU MUST HAVE SOMEONE TO DRIVE YOU HOME, OR THE DOCTOR WILL NOT DO THE PROCEDURE. If your driver does not plan to stay during your procedure, you will need to provide a phone number where that person can be contacted.
  • Using a small amount of water, take your prescription medications as you usually do unless you have been instructed to hold the medication prior to the procedure.
  • It is very important that you take your blood pressure or heart medication as usual.
  • Bring your insurance cards with you.
  • If you are a diabetic, check your blood sugar at home before your procedure.
  • If you have an implanted cardiac defibrillator, it is very important that you bring the card identifying the device manufacturer, model, and serial number.
  • You may wear your glasses, dentures, or hearing aids. It is best to leave your jewelry at home.

How Do I Prepare For My Colonoscopy?

The type of preparation you will need to perform before your colonoscopy will depend on your medical history, age, and other factors. Please click the button below to view the various preparations.