Written by Dr. Karen Zaghiyan, originally published March 26, 2019
Colonoscopy is a procedure where your doctor passes a small tube with a camera at it’s tip into your colon to screen for colorectal cancer or for diagnostic purposes if you’re having symptoms. The preparation requires you to empty the colon completely so your doctor can see the inner lining of the colon during the exam. Otherwise, residue in the colon may obscure your doctor’s view of the colon and rectum during the exam.
Prior to the procedure your doctor will provide detailed colonoscopy preparation instructions. These instructions typically include one or more of the following:
- Follow a special diet.
- Three or four days before your colonoscopy your doctormay request you to stick to a diet of clean foods. These foods include seedless fruits, lean meats, eggs, white bread and pasta to minimize the amount of residue in the colon.
- The day before your colonoscopy your doctor may ask you to refrain from eating any solid foods and to stick to a clear liquid only This liquid diet begins in the morning and continues all day into the evening. You may drink liquids like coffee (without cream), tea, water, juices (without pulp), and electrolyte beverages (e.g. Gatoradeâ, Poweraidâ, Pedialyteâ) at this time. Clear broth and jello are also allowed. As a rule of thumb, if you can’t see through it, you can’t drink it! After midnight, you are generally asked to stop drinking or eating anything until after your procedure the following day.
- The morning of your colonoscopy. You may brush your teeth. However, unless specifically instructed by your doctor to drink the remainder of a split-dose prep, you are generally asked to refrain from eating or drinking anything, even water, the morning of your procedure.
- Take a laxative.A laxative helps loosen stools, increase bowel movements and empty the colon. It may be taken as a pill or liquid. Oftentimes, a doctor requests a patient take a laxative the night before a colonoscopy or as a split-dose both the night before and the morning of the exam.
- Modify your medications. Some medications must be adjusted in dose or completely stopped in the days leading up to a colonoscopy. These medications include blood thinners including asprin, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (eg ibuprofen, naproxen), high blood pressure or diabetes medications, vitamins and herbal supplements.
- Arrange a ride.A colonoscopy is generally performed under sedation, often with an anesthesiologist proving and maintaining sedation or “twilight sleep” to assure you are comfortable during the procedure. Thus, you may not drive yourself home after a colonoscopy and must arrange for a responsible party to escort you home.
Preparing for a colonoscopy may seem daunting at first, but your doctor will provide guidance and support in the weeks and days before your colonoscopy. It is best that you read the doctors specific instructions at least 1 week before your procedure to make sure you do not miss important instructions such as refraining from any medications that may affect the procedure. If any of the instructions appear unclear, reach out to your doctor’s office early to clarify any confusion.
Colonoscopy Preparation Tips
There are many things that you can do to streamline the process of preparing for a colonoscopy. These include:
Make a Plan
Your doctor may provide lots of information prior to a colonoscopy, and the sheer volume of colonoscopy preparation information may be overwhelming. However, by taking the time to review your doctor’s colonoscopy preparation instructions, you can address any concerns or questions right away. Best of all, you can plan to follow your doctor’s instructions and increase the likelihood of a successful colonoscopy.
Get Ready for a Laxative
The mere thought of taking a laxative before a colonoscopy may cause stress, but there are many things that you can do to prepare for a laxative. If you are required to take a liquid laxative, it often helps to mix the laxative with a sports drink or other flavored beverages; that way, you can reduce or eliminate the unpleasant taste associated with a laxative.
It also is important to remember that once a laxative starts working, you may experience frequent diarrhea, cramps and bloating. It is best that you stay close by to a bathroom at this time. Applying diaper cream before diarrhea begins may help alleviate pain and discomfort during bowel movements. Keeping moist wipes on hand enables you to clean yourself well with minimal trauma. And if you keep reading material in the bathroom, you can stay entertained until the laxative’s effects subside
Focus on the End Results
The final hours prior to a colonoscopy can be tough, even for a patient who considers himself or herself to be a strong, resilient individual. When the going gets tough, it is important to remember why you are choosing to undergo a colonoscopy in the first place.
Remember, a colonoscopy is the only colorectal cancer screening method that is also a prevention tool because any precancerous polyps found at the time of a colonoscopy can generally be removed to help prevent progression to cancer. In addition to checking for polyps or cancer, a colonoscopy can also visualize ulcers, inflammation and bleeding in the large intestine and the distal part of the small bowel.
Reasons to Schedule a Colonoscopy
The most common reason for performing a colonoscopy is for colorectal cancer screening and prevention. Remember, most colorectal cancers do not cause symptoms in the early stages. This is why it is so important that you have a colonoscopy when you meet screening guidelines regardless of whether you are having symptoms. A precancerous polyp or early cancer is much easier to treat than one that has grown and spread throughout the body.
The American Cancer Society (ACS) notes colorectal cancer is the second most diagnosed cancer in in the United States. Furthermore, an estimated 97,220 new cases of colon cancer and 43,030 new cases of rectal cancer will be diagnosed this year, according to ACS.
Colorectal cancer is problematic, but it is treatable. Because of advancements in early detection and treatments for colorectal cancer, the death rate from colorectal cancer in the United States has been declining for several decades. In fact, there are currently more than 1 million colorectal cancer survivors in the United States, and this number may continue to rise thanks in part to colonoscopies.
Ultimately, a colonoscopy offers a great opportunity for a man or women to track colorectal cancer and intestinal problems before they escalate. The procedure allows a doctor to explore potential causes of abdominal pain, chronic constipation, chronic diarrhea and rectal bleeding. Plus, a colonoscopy is generally a safe, effective procedure with minimal risk.