A colonoscopy (koh-luh-NAH-skuh-pee) allows a doctor to look inside the entire large intestine. The procedure enables the physician to see things such as inflamed tissue, abnormal growths, and ulcers. It is most often used to look for early signs of cancer in the colon and rectum. It is also used to look for causes of unexplained changes in bowel habits and to evaluate symptoms like abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, and weight loss. Click here to view a short, informational video about the procedure.
What to expect
The colon, or large bowel, is the last portion of your digestive tract, or gastrointestinal tract. The colon is a hollow tube that starts at the end of the small intestine and ends at the rectum and anus. The colon is about 5 feet long, and its main function is to store unabsorbed food waste and absorb water and other body fluids before the waste is eliminated as stool.
You will be given instructions in advance that will explain what you need to do to prepare for your colonoscopy. Your colon must be completely empty for the colonoscopy to be thorough and safe. To prepare for the procedure you will have to follow a liquid diet for 1 to 3 days beforehand. The liquid diet should be clear and not contain food colorings, and may include:
- fat-free bouillon or broth
- strained fruit juice
- plain coffee
- plain tea
- diet soda
Thorough cleansing of the bowel is necessary before a colonoscopy. You will likely be asked to take a laxative the night before the procedure. In some cases you may be asked to give yourself an enema. An enema is performed by inserting a bottle with water and sometimes a mild soap in your anus to clean out the bowels. Be sure to inform your doctor of any medical conditions you have or medications you take on a regular basis such as:
- arthritis medications
- blood thinners
- diabetes medication
- vitamins that contain iron
The medical staff will also want to know if you have heart disease, lung disease, or any medical condition that may need special attention. You must also arrange for someone to take you home afterward, because you will not be allowed to drive after being sedated.