What stands in the way of many people getting a colonoscopy that could save their lives? One major reason is feeling anxious about the unknown.
Whether it comes from the process of getting ready for a colonoscopy or the procedure itself, worry often prevents people from getting checked. Much of that anxiety comes from false beliefs about colonoscopies.
As for the procedure itself, modern sedation medication ensures that patients neither feel nor remember any part of it.
The bowel cleansing and preparation has a critical purpose, though, as it allows doctors to get a clear look at the colon, and to spot and remove the lesions that could turn into cancers. These lesions may not cause any symptoms, and colonoscopy is the only reliable way to remove them before they turn into cancer. Important as they are, these facts don’t make getting ready for a colonoscopy pleasant. But there are different ways to make the process more tolerable.
Here, we share expert tips from Sudhir N. Kalaskar, MD, MRSCEd, to help you minimize any discomfort surrounding colonoscopy prep. Knowing what’s coming is an important step to overcoming your anxiety. Here’s what to expect:
The One-Day Diet
Your doctor will tell you that the first step in getting ready for a colonoscopy is changing how you eat. Dr. Kalaskar says, “The day before the procedure, you won’t be eating any solid food. It is OK to drink clear liquids. But water isn’t the only clear liquid you can drink.”
Here are some popular examples of what you can drink:
- Apple, grape and cranberry juice
- Clear flavored liquids (i.e., lemon-lime sports drinks or Crystal Light, but nothing with red, blue or purple color)
- Hard candy you can see through
- Popsicles (dairy-free, not in flavors like grape, cherry or orange)
- Sprite, 7Up® or ginger ale (carbonated may be more filling)
- Tea or coffee without cream
All of these choices have one thing in common: They don’t interfere with your doctor’s ability to study the inner lining of the colon.
In addition to dietary changes, patients on certain medications, including for diabetes or blood-thinning — either prescription or over the counter — need to talk with their doctor about how they need to be adjusted during the colonoscopy process.
“In the late afternoon, start taking the laxative you were prescribed,” says Dr. Kalaskar. He continues, “This is the least pleasant part of the preparation, but it’s the most critical to ensure your colonoscopy examination is as accurate as possible.”
Tips to Get You Through It
In recent years, there have been efforts to reduce how many laxatives patients take, as well as to improve their taste.
The amounts vary, but you’ll need to drink between two and four liters, or between one-half and one gallon.
Be sure to spend the evening near a bathroom. Here are a few other tips:
- Drink medication with a straw to taste less of it
- Mix medication with Crystal Light (avoiding red, blue, black or purple colors) to sweeten it
- Use baby wipes instead of toilet paper
- Have a favorite book, magazine or tablet ready
- If you’re worried about nausea, your doctor can offer medication to prevent it
Be sure to drink all of your prescribed medication. Dr. Kalaskar explains, “Once you’re finished, your stool should be both liquid and clear. After midnight and until the procedure the next morning, you shouldn’t eat or drink anything, including water.”
These rules exist for good reason. If the doctor can’t see the majority of the inner lining of the colon — which gets in the way of their ability to see small, pre-cancerous growths called “polyps” — they may suggest the procedure (and the preparation) be done again.
What To Expect on Your Procedure Day
Most colonoscopies are done in the morning or afternoon on an outpatient basis, meaning you go home after it’s finished. Dr. Kalaskar clarifies, “The colonoscopy itself usually takes between 30 and 60 minutes. But including preparation and recovery, the whole process takes about four hours.”
You’re not going to feel or remember any part of the procedure with improved sedation and medication.
Some patients also worry about costs. But colon cancer screenings in healthy, eligible adults are effective enough in preventing cancer that insurance companies tend to cover them.
If, after considering the costs and benefits of a colonoscopy, you’re still on the fence, remember to consider your family. Colon cancer is the third-leading cause of cancer death, and having regular colonoscopies is the best way to prevent it. Talk with your doctor about whether a colonoscopy is right for you.
We hope you feel empowered by knowing what to expect with help from Dr. Kalaskar. Visit our website to learn more about our care services.