If your physician is recommending a colonoscopy, the following information will address questions you might have.
An exam using an instrument called a colonoscope. The colonoscope is a thin, lighted flexible tube. This instrument allows the physician to directly view the inside of your colon (large intestine). Photos can be taken to document findings and tissue samples (biopsies) may be taken. This is a painless way for your physician to evaluate the colon in great detail.
Polyps are small growths originating in the lining of the colon. Most polyps are non-cancerous (benign), but the physician cannot always tell a benign polyp from a malignant (cancerous) polyp by its visual appearance. For this reason, all polyps found will be removed and sent to pathology for analysis. You should feel no discomfort during the polyp removal. Removal of colon polyps is important in preventing colorectal cancer.
Your colon must be clean in order for your physician to get the best view possible. A special diet followed by a laxative preparation is necessary to clear out any waste or solid residue. The instructions must be followed exactly. Any solid material retained in the colon may prolong the procedure or make it necessary to repeat the examination at another time.
The doctor will give you an intravenous medication to make you feel relaxed. Some people fall asleep and do not remember the procedure when they awaken. The physician will put air into your colon to help visualize the lining and this sometimes causes a cramping or bloated sensation. (Passing this air during and following the exam will relieve any discomfort.)
When you arrive at the endoscopy center, you will be asked to change into a gown. The nurse will ask you questions about your medical history and current medication use. Updating this information will make the procedure safe for you. Please be prepared to review your health history at this time. Bring a list of medications and drug allergies, if necessary. Your blood pressure, pulse rate, and oxygen saturation will be monitored before, during and after the exam. An intravenous (I.V.) needle will be placed in your hand or arm.
The nurse will help you get comfortable on a stretcher. After blood pressure and heart rate monitors are applied you will lie on your left side. Your physician will give you an intravenous injection of medication. After you become relaxed, the physician will insert the tip of the scope into your rectum and advance it forward into the colon. The procedure takes 20-45 minutes.
When your exam is finished you will be taken to the recovery room for observation. The sedation used during your exam impairs judgment, memory, and equilibrium for about 12 hours. You cannot drive or operate any mechanical equipment for 12 hours, and should avoid alcohol and/or tranquilizers for 12 hours. Except for these restrictions, you may resume your normal diet unless directed otherwise by your physician. Normal activities such as signing legal documents or exercise can be resumed the following day. The procedure will cannot be performed unless you bring a friend or family member to get you safely home.
When performed by a knowledgeable and competent physician, a colonoscopy is a very low risk procedure. Very rarely, bleeding or perforation (tearing of the lining of the colon) may occur. Other risks include a reaction to medication, irritation at the site of the injection, or complications related to other medical problems that you may already have.
Although complications after colonoscopy are uncommon, it is important for you to recognize early signs of any possible complication. Contact your physician if you notice any of the following symptoms: severe abdominal pain, fever and chills, or rectal bleeding even several days following a polyp removal.