No one looks forward to that time when your doctor says, “You should schedule a colonoscopy.” It’s so tempting to put it off when the time comes.
Most doctors recommend routine colonoscopies beginning at age 50, or sooner if you are in a high-risk group. If your doctor has said those not-so-magic words and you’re avoiding the procedure because you are worried about what to expect, we got you.
This super-safe, minimally invasive test could save your life. It is part of the screening process for colorectal cancer. Doctors screen for it beginning at 50 because it is generally slow-growing cancer with no symptoms until it has progressed to late stages. A colonoscopy can help your doctor find pre-cancerous changes early before cancer has had a chance to spread, and it is easier to treat.
This may not have put your mind to rest about having the procedure, but it should have let you know how important it is. If you are still feeling a little nervous, here’s what to expect before, during, and after a colonoscopy.
What to Expect Before Your Colonoscopy
Many people say that the prep is the worst part, but it is a crucial part of the procedure. And these days it is easier than it used to be. Carefully follow your gastroenterologist’s instructions, so you don’t have to have the procedure done twice.
If your prep is insufficient and your doctor cannot see inside your colon, you may have to repeat the exam. Even worse, if visibility is poor, then polyps (a precursor to cancer) may be missed.
For your colonoscopy to be successful, your colon needs to be clean and empty. So do your prep.
Step 1) A few days before the procedure, you will switch to a low-fiber diet consisting of eggs, bread, pasta, and meat. One day earlier, you will switch to a clear liquid diet such as clear chicken broth, veggie broth, tea, and water. Stay away from purple and red food dye.
Step 2) You’ll start drinking the liquid prescribed by your gastroenterologist. In recent years bowel-cleaning agents have become better-tasting and the regimen more tolerable. You drink the first dose the night before the colonoscopy and the second in the morning of, six hours before the procedure.
Prepping successfully helps your doctor get an accurate view of your colon, so they can find and remove as many polyps as possible.
What to Expect During Your Colonoscopy
On the day of your procedure, you’ll sign in and meet your team. They’ll give you a gown to change into and place a small IV in your arm. In the exam room, your doctor will ask you to lie on your left side. The IV in your arm will deliver sedation so that you won’t feel any pain or discomfort during the colonoscopy.
Using a fiber-optic scope, your doctor will examine your colon for any abnormalities. The scope is equipped with a small camera on a flexible tube that takes pictures of the inside of your colon. This tool helps your doctor find and remove any small growths before they have a chance to develop further and possibly turn into cancer.
The procedure takes about 30-45 minutes. You’ll most likely be there for approximately three hours, including prep, procedure, and recovery.
What to Expect After Your Colonoscopy
Post-procedure, your doctor will discuss your results. Some findings will be known right away. If your doctor removed a polyp, it might take a few days, maybe longer, to get the results. Most people feel normal and can start eating again soon after the procedure. However, you should start eating lightly. You should be fine to drive and go to work the next day.
If you know it’s time to have a colonoscopy and are concerned about it, talk to your doctor. Ask as many questions as you can think of, and don’t be afraid to ask follow-up questions. If you are worried, write all your questions down, so you don’t forget them, and take notes about the answers.
The good news is that colorectal cancer is one of the most preventable, but only if you have regular colonoscopies. A small amount of discomfort can save your life.