Colonoscopy is a visual examination of the colon, otherwise known as the large bowel. A video endoscope is inserted through the rectum and advanced to the end of the colon. The endoscope is a long, flexible black tube with a camera at the end, which projects constant images of the colon onto a video screen for your doctor to watch.

Why have a colonoscopy?

There are many diseases that can occur within the colon. Making a proper diagnosis sometimes involves examining the colon lining with colonoscopy. Although there are many reasons for having a colonoscopy, some of the more common reasons include looking for the following – colon cancer, benign growths called polyps, inflammation or ulcers termed colitis, sources of bleeding, causes of diarrhea, and reasons for anemia.

What is the preparation for the examination?

In order to safely maneuver through the natural curves of the colon and adequately see the lining, the colon must be cleaned and free of stool. Your doctor will prescribe a cleansing method, which usually involves drinking a flushing solution, laxatives, and/or enemas. In most cases, you are asked to consume only clear liquids and eat no solid food the day before your procedure. Your physician will provide advice on which medications are safe to use up until the day of your colonoscopy.

What should I expect the day of the procedure?

Colonoscopy is typically an outpatient procedure. You can expect to spend less than half a day for completion. You may be given sedative medications through an IV that will produce a light sleep or relaxed state of mind. Once you are comfortable, your doctor will maneuver the colonoscope through your bowel. Air is placed into the colon to allow good visualization, and this can create cramping in some people. Turning the colonoscope around corners can also cause discomfort, and these are two of the main reasons patients are given sedation. One of the medications can produce short-term amnesia, so some patients forget or simply sleep through the colonoscopy. Your doctor can discuss the details of these medications with you prior to beginning your colonoscopy. If polyps are found in your colon, your physician will remove them with a heated lasso or biopsy teeth. Polyp removal does not produce pain. Biopsies will also be obtained if any other abnormal tissue is seen. The exam usually lasts 15-45 minutes. You will recover from the medication effects quickly. You should not drive a vehicle the rest of the day. For complete instructions see our website at

When will I get results?

Your doctor will be able to explain what was found on your exam directly after its completion and provide specific recommendations. If biopsies or other specimens were taken during the exam, pathology results usually return within 4-10 working days.

Alternatives to colonoscopy

Other methods to evaluate the colon include flexible sigmoidoscopy, barium enema, virtual colonoscopy, and stool blood testing. Most of these testing methods do not allow for polyp removal, tissue biopsy, or direct visualization of the entire colon. Colonoscopy remains the most comprehensive means for complete evaluation of the colon.

What are the risks and side effects of colonoscopy?

Due to the air placed inside the colon during the exam, some patients feel gassy or bloated after colonoscopy. This usually resolves once you are able to pass gas. Serious risks of the exam include, but are not limited to, bleeding, infection, adverse reaction to the sedative medication, and bowel perforation, which is inadvertently causing a hole in the colon. The chances of these serious side effects are small, but any adverse outcome can result in hospitalization, surgery, or even death.

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