Colonoscopies are often used as diagnostic procedures to find out more about the state of your colon and rectum. It might be because you’re having symptoms such as diarrhoea, bloody stools or just unexplained weight loss that your doctor has suggested you have one. Or it might simply be because you’re over the age of 50 and are due for your first colonoscopy screening.
The colonoscopy itself is a relatively simple procedure. You’ll be sedated so you won’t feel any pain and a colonoscope – a long, thin tube with a camera at the end – will be inserted through your rectum and up into your colon. The colonoscope will allow your doctor to see the entire length of your colon and to take biopsies if necessary.
If any polyps or lesions are found, they can be removed during the colonoscopy. In some cases, a small amount of tissue may be taken for further analysis in a laboratory.
Prior to the colonoscopy, your doctor may advise you to stop taking certain medications or limit what you eat and drink. This is so that changes in the appearance of your colon aren’t confused with anything serious. You’ll need to avoid red meat, alcohol and fibre for a few days before your colonoscopy. Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.
You need to be accompanied to the colonoscopy by a responsible adult who can drive you home afterwards. If you live alone, ensure you have planned adequately for someone to take care of you during the day or night after your colonoscopy.
Afterwards, most people are very tired and may want to sleep for as long as possible. You may have some cramping or gas pains from the colonoscope being inserted and the colon filling with air, but over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen should help with these symptoms.
The colonoscopy will only take 60 to 90 minutes in total. It’s important that you don’t eat or drink anything for at least six hours afterwards so that your colon can be completely empty. You’ll be able to go back to work the next day, but you should avoid strenuous exercise for a few days.
A colonoscopy is a relatively simple procedure that’s usually safe and well tolerated. Most people feel fine after the colonoscopy and can return to their normal activities the next day. If you’re having any problems such as pain, bleeding or diarrhoea, contact your doctor.