Department of Surgery
About a Colonoscopy
A colonoscopy is a visual examination of the large bowel, seen from the inside of the colon and rectum. The exam is done with a long, flexible, fiber-optic tube (about a half-inch in diameter) called a colonoscope.
This outpatient procedure is used to evaluate symptoms like abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, or changes in bowel habits. The procedure is used also to screen for colorectal cancer.
As a rule, a colonoscopy will take from 30 to 60 minutes. During the procedure, the colonoscope is inserted through the rectum and advanced to the other end of the large intestine. The scope transmits images of the lining, which allows the doctor to find any abnormalities.
If the doctor sees something that may be abnormal, small amounts of tissue can be removed for analysis (biopsy). Abnormal growths called polyps can be found and taken out. In many cases, colonoscopy allows complete removal of growths that would otherwise turn into cancer.
To adequately examine the bowel, the colon must be cleaned out the day before the procedure. Your doctor will give you a prescription for a bowel prep, which will cause you to pass all the solid stool from your colon. This is a very important step, as the examination may have to be repeated if the bowel prep is poor.
What to Expect on the Day of Your Procedure
- After you check in, you will be brought to the pre-procedure area where a nurse will help you change into a gown.
- An IV will be inserted in your arm. You will get sedation medications through this IV during the procedure.
- You will be brought back to the endoscopy suite where your doctor and the endoscopy nurse will ask you some basic health questions and perform a brief physical exam.
- You will be attached to a monitor that checks your vital signs during the procedure
- You will receive medicine in your IV that will make you feel calm and comfortable throughout the procedure. Most people do not go all the way to sleep during a colonoscopy, but are unaware of what is happening.
- After the procedure, you will move to the post-procedure area where your doctor will come out to speak with you. Because of the medications you receive during the procedure, it can be hard to remember what your doctor told you right after your colonoscopy. Bring with you someone you trust to help you remember what the doctor said. If you have more questions, you can always call your doctor when you feel more awake.
- Bring someone to drive you home as you will be unable to drive after the sedation.
- You should not make any important decisions or sign any legal documents after your colonoscopy. Plan to take the rest of the day off of work. By the next day, you should feel back to yourself.