Colonoscopy

Physicians recommend screening for colon cancer after the age of 50. Even healthy individuals with no history of colon cancer, colon polyps, other bowel problems or bleeding should have a colonoscopy.

A colonoscopy is a medical procedure performed to view the inside of the colon (large intestine) and rectum to look for abnormal growths, inflamed tissues, polyps, ulcer, or colon cancer. A colonoscopy can help to diagnose many digestive system conditions, such as diverticulitis, ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, and colon cancer. Doctors perform colonoscopies when presented with various symptoms, including unexplained weight loss, rectal bleeding, changes in bowel habits (chronic constipation or diarrhea), and abdominal pain. A colonoscopy is considered the gold standard as a preventive measure to look for early signs of colorectal cancer; your doctor may recommend a colonoscopy every 10 years starting at 50 years of age, or sooner if you have certain risk factors for colon cancer.

How It's Performed

Your physician will insert a long, narrow, flexible tube into your rectum; the instrument has a small video camera at the end which enables your doctor to see the inside of your colon on a video monitor. If polyps or abnormal tissue or growths are see during the procedure, your doctor will take a biopsy (tissue samples) to be sent to a laboratory for analysis.

Preparation

Some people report that the preparation for a colonoscopy is more taxing than the procedure itself. This is because the preparation typically involves drinking a large volume of liquid, which some described having a salty, gritty texture and taste. This liquid will help to clear out your colon; as a result you will be making many trips to the bathroom starting an hour or so after drinking the liquid. Depending on the time of your procedure, you may only be able to consume clear liquids the day before your procedure. Your doctor may recommend that you take a laxative the night before the procedure and use an enema the morning of the procedure. It's very important that your colon is squeaky clean, so that your doctor can get a good look at the inside of your colon.

The Procedure

In a typical colonoscopy, you will be given mild sedation. Depending on the type of medication given, you will either be in a twilight sleep or will not be awake during the procedure. Many patients can not recall the procedure after it is over, due to an amnesia-like medication sometimes prescribed. You will be wearing only a hospital gown and will lie on your side during the procedure.

Post Procedure

It will take about an hour for the sedation to wear off, and you may feel groggy. You'll need someone to drive you home after the procedure. You may feel some bloating or gas for a few hours after the exam because your colon will be "blown up" with air during the procedure. In most cases, you'll be able to resume a normal diet after the exam.

Risks

Complications of a colonoscopy are rare. When they do occur, they can take the form of an adverse reaction to the sedation, bleeding from a tissue sample extraction, or a tear in the rectal or colon wall.

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