What is colonoscopy?

The term colonoscopy refers to a medical procedure during which a long flexible tube called colonoscope is used to look inside the colon. It is a procedure performed by a gastroenterologist, a well-trained specialist. There is a tiny video camera and a light on the end of the colonoscope. By adjusting the various controls on the colonoscope, the gastroenterologist can carefully guide the instrument in any direction to look at the inside of the colon. The high-quality picture from the colonoscope is shown on a TV monitor, and gives a clear, detailed view.

Before the Procedure

You need to restrict the diet before the procedure. Check your instructions about what to eat or drink the night before your colonoscopy and when to stop eating. Consult your doctor prior to the procedure to determine if the medications you are on should be taken or not prior to the colonoscopy. The most critical step is to thoroughly clean out the colon before the procedure because how well the bowel is emptied will help determine how well your doctor can examine it during the procedure. Various methods can be used to help cleanse the bowel, and your doctor will recommend in your specific case.

During the Colonoscopy

Colonoscopy can be done in a hospital, special outpatient surgical center or a physician’s office. You will be asked to sign a form which verifies that you consent to having the procedure and that you understand what is involved. If there is anything you do not understand, ask for more information.

During the procedure, an intravenous line, or IV, will be placed to give you medication to make you relaxed and drowsy. The drug may enable you to remain awake and cooperative while preventing you from remembering much of the experience.

Once you are fully relaxed, colonoscope will be gently inserted. As the scope is slowly and carefully passed, you may feel as if you need to move your bowels, and because air is introduced to help advance the scope, you may feel some cramping or fullness. Generally, however, there is little or no discomfort. The time needed for colonoscopy will vary, depending in part on what is found and what is done; on average, the procedure takes about 30 minutes. Afterwards, you will be cared for in a recovery area until most of the effects of the medication have worn off. At this time, your doctor will inform you about the results of your colonoscopy and provide any additional information you need to know. You will also be given instructions regarding how soon you can eat and drink, plus other guidelines for resuming your normal routine.

Possible Complications

Although colonoscopy is a safe procedure, complications can occur, including perforation or puncture of the colon walls, which could require surgical repair. Complications during a colonoscopy are rare. You should also be aware that colonoscopy is not perfect and even with a skilled physician, some colon lesions (abnormalities) might be missed.

When polyp removal or biopsy is performed, hemorrhage — heavy bleeding — may result and sometimes require blood transfusion or reinsertion of the colonoscope to control the bleeding. Be sure to discuss any specific concerns you may have about the procedure with your doctor.

After the Colonoscopy

Plan to rest for the remainder of the day after your colonoscopy. This means not driving, so you will need to arrange to have a family member or friend take you home.

Occasionally, minor problems may persist, such as bloating, gas or mild cramping, which should disappear in 24 hours or less.