Your doctor may recommend a colonoscopy if you have problems such as blood in your stools. The test allows the doctor to see inside your colon to look for polyps, inflammation, and signs of colon cancer. A colonoscopy might also be recommended as a cancer screening test even if you have no symptoms. The American Cancer Society recommends a colonoscopy at age 50 and every ten years thereafter. If you have a strong family history of colon cancer, your doctor may want you to take the test more often than that. Here's a quick overview of the colonoscopy procedure.
The Preparation Phase
Preparing your colon for the test is probably the worst part of it all. It's necessary to clean out your colon so the doctor can see what's going on in there. That means you'll need to switch to a liquid diet the day before and take a strong laxative. The laxative is often in the form of a salty drink that is difficult to get down. You'll go to the bathroom frequently and experience stomach cramping and maybe even nausea.
Even though cleaning out your colon may be difficult to tolerate, it's very important you follow your doctor's instructions precisely. If you don't, and your colon isn't clear, the doctor won't be able to do the test and you'll have to go through the process all over again. Drink all the laxatives as instructed and be sure to follow the dietary recommendations. Even a small thing, such as drinking juice with red coloring, could be enough to interfere with the test.
How The Procedure Is Done
The procedure itself is usually easy to tolerate since you'll be given pain medication and a sedative to help you relax. You'll receive the medications through an IV so the dosage can be adjusted during the procedure to keep you comfortable. You won't be put to sleep, but you may be relaxed enough to fall asleep. You might not even remember much about the procedure once it's over.
To do the test, the doctor has to inflate your colon with air to open it up. This might cause some cramping. You may also feel the scope sliding around as the doctor advances it to examine the walls of your colon. If the doctor sees small polyps, he or she will probably remove them during the test. The doctor may also remove some tissue for a biopsy to test you for cancer.
Recovering From A Colonoscopy
A colonoscopy can be done as an outpatient at a hospital or clinic. You'll be able to go home as soon as you are awake and alert enough to leave. You won't be able to drive because of the medications, so be sure to have someone help you get home. Because of the air in your colon, you may feel some cramping and bloating until you have passed it all. If the doctor did some excisions of polyps, you might notice some blood in your stools for a couple of days, but bleeding should not be heavy. Your doctor will let you know when you can resume your usual medications and a normal diet. You will probably feel sleepy for the rest of the day, but you can expect to be back to normal once all the medications have worn off.
Even though a colonoscopy is not a pleasant procedure to endure, it can save your life by detecting colon cancer in the very early stages. Plus, the doctor can adjust your medications to keep you as comfortable as possible, so there is no reason to avoid taking this diagnostic test, especially since suspicious growths can be removed at the same time.