How to prep for a colonoscopy

| Patient Education

What is a colonoscopy?

A colonoscopy is an exam that uses a thin, flexible tube with a camera inserted into the rectum that allows your doctor to see inside your colon and rectum. The camera allows your doctor to look for polyps or other abnormalities and examine the overall health of your colon. The procedure typically lasts 30–60 minutes.

Why a colonoscopy might be needed

Various conditions that affect the large intestine can be detected and diagnosed with the help of a colonoscopy:

  • Colorectal cancer

  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)

  • Diverticular disease

  • Bleeding or anemia

  • Other symptoms such as abdominal pain, chronic diarrhea, constipation, weight loss, or bowel irregularity

A doctor performs a colonoscopy

When a colonoscopy is needed

The American Cancer Society and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends starting colorectal cancer screening at age 45 for people who are at average risk and don’t have symptoms. People with other risk factors like a family history of colorectal cancer or certain bowel conditions may need to start screening earlier or more frequently.

If you’re experiencing symptoms related to your large intestine, such as bleeding, pain, or persistent changes in your bowel habits, you may need a colonoscopy regardless of your age or risk factors. Talk with your doctor about your symptoms and medical history to determine the best screening schedule right for you.

How to prepare for a colonoscopy

To prepare for a colonoscopy, it’s important to empty your colon so your doctor can see your colon clearly to spot any abnormalities. Your doctor will provide instructions before the procedure to help you prepare.

Preparation steps for a colonoscopy generally include:

  • Avoid solid foods and drink only clear liquids the day before the procedure.
  • Take a laxative solution or pills prescribed by your doctor to flush out your bowel. Make sure you have access to a bathroom, since this can cause frequent and watery stools.
  • Pause taking certain medications that may increase your risk of bleeding, such as blood thinners, iron supplements, or anti-inflammatory drugs. Check with your doctor about any medications you should stop or continue taking.
  • Avoid drinking any liquids at least four hours prior to the procedure.

Always follow your doctor’s instructions before a colonoscopy for the best guidance for you. Your exact preparation steps may vary based on your doctor’s recommendations or your reason for having a colonoscopy.

Recovering from a colonoscopy

After your colonoscopy, you may experience some bloating, gas, or mild cramping from the air that was pumped into your colon. These symptoms are normal and should go away as you pass gas.

You won’t be able to drive yourself home because of the sedatives used during the procedure to help you feel comfortable, so you should arrange for someone to take you home and stay with you until you’re fully alert.

You can resume your normal diet and activities after the procedure unless your doctor tells you otherwise. Just be sure to avoid alcohol for at least 24 hours since it can interact with the sedatives.

A nurse and a doctor comfort and laugh with a patient about to undergo a colonoscopy.

Schedule a screening

If you’re due for a colonoscopy, don’t put it off. Early detection is key to preventing colorectal cancer. Talk with your doctor about your risk factors and screening options.

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Doctor Maurer

About the Author

Susan Maurer MD

Dr. Maurer is a board-certified general surgeon fellowship trained in minimally invasive surgery and advanced endoscopy, including ERCP. ERCP is a state-of-the-art technique used to diagnose and treat problems in the liver, gallbladder and pancreas. Dr. Maurer is joining the team at Schneck Surgical Associates.