A colonoscopy is a procedure used to visually examine the inside of the large intestine (colon) and rectum. A colonoscopy may be performed to evaluate changes in bowel habits or bleeding, and also to examine inflammatory disorders, or changes that develop in the lining of the colon.
A biopsy or tissue sample can be obtained during the colonoscopy exam for further analysis. Colonoscopy is frequently used to screen for early signs of colon cancer. Your gastroenterologist can examine the colon for inflamed tissue, ulcers and abnormal growths using a long, flexible tube called a colonoscope.
The colon and rectum are the two primary parts of the large intestine, or large bowel. Digestive waste travels through the colon to the rectum, which is connected to the anus where the waste or stool is eliminated.
Preparing for a Colonoscopy
Your gastroenterologist will provide you with specific instructions prior to your examination. Make sure that you have provided your gastroenterologist with a complete list of any medications that you take regularly, including vitamins, anti-inflammatories and blood thinners. You may need to stop using some of these medications prior to your procedure.
Before the colonoscopy all solid material must be cleared from your digestive tract so your gastroenterologist can see the intestinal wall without obstruction. This process is often referred to as a bowel prep. You will be provided with detailed instructions on how to perform the bowel prep.
During the Colonoscopy
The colonoscopy is performed in a hospital or outpatient center. An IV will be started and you will be given a sedative to keep you comfortable and relaxed through the procedure. It is common for patients to not remember the procedure because of these medications.
During the procedure the gastroenterologist inserts the colonoscope through the anus and into the large intestine. A small camera that is connected to the scope transmits images onto a screen in the examination room so that your doctor can carefully examine the intestinal wall. The scope progresses to the opening of the small intestine and then is carefully withdrawn. Any small growths or polyps that are detected may be removed during the colonoscopy. The entire procedure takes between 30 and 60 minutes.
After Your Colonoscopy
Following your colonoscopy exam you will be taken to a recovery room where you will remain until the sedative wears off. This usually takes around an hour. You should arrange to have someone drive you home following the procedure. Your physician will provide you with instructions prior to your procedure to follow once you have returned home. You should expect to be able to return to work and normal activity the following day.
Side Effects and Risks
During the colonoscopy you may experience brief cramping or gas pains as air is inserted into the large intestine or the colonoscope progresses through the colon. The sedative medication will minimize any discomfort and it generally does not remain following the examination. Serious risks or complications as a result of a colonoscopy are rare. Your gastroenterologist will provide you with detailed instructions as well as benefits, risks and possible side effects prior to the examination to ensure that you understand all that is involved with the colonoscopy procedure.