Health Care

The Colonoscopy: What You’ve Always Wanted to Know but Were Afraid to Ask

An older woman reviews test results on a tablet with her physician.

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If the word “colonoscopy” makes you cringe, you’re not alone. But the truth is, it’s an essential part of maintaining your overall health and wellness, especially if you’re approaching 50 or older.

According to Sudhir Kalaskar, MD, a colorectal surgeon at AdventHealth Dade City and AdventHealth Zephyrhills, colonoscopies are still the “gold standard” in helping physicians detect cancer at the earliest signs and remove any potentially cancerous or precancerous polyps.

“There are a lot of reasons why people avoid a colonoscopy: embarrassment, fear, stigma, lack of information, and more,” says Dr. Kalaskar. “But the best way to overcome most of these barriers is to be informed and know what to expect.”

We’re here to walk you through what you’ll likely experience before, during and after your colonoscopy.

Before

Your doctor will give you specific instructions on preparing for a colonoscopy. These instructions will likely include information about the following:

  • How to take a laxative or drink a special fluid to help clean out your colon
  • Restrictions on eating or drinking anything after midnight on the day of your screening
  • Making transportation/caregiver arrangements to return home after your outpatient procedure

“It’s important to follow your preparation guidelines closely — for your safety, and so your doctor can get a clear view of your intestines during your procedure,” says Dr. Kalaskar. “Following your instructions helps ensure a successful procedure and prevents a last-minute reschedule.”

When It’s Time for Your Exam

  • You will be asked to remove any jewelry or other objects that might get in the way during the procedure
  • You will likely be asked to remove your clothing and given a gown to wear
  • You will be given relaxing (sedating) medicine through an IV line. You may be drowsy or fully asleep
  • You will usually be asked to lie on your left side with your knees pulled up towards your chest
  • Air may be injected into your bowel during the procedure. This makes it easier to see the inside surfaces. A gentle water jet may also be used to clean the lining of your colon, and a suction device may be used to remove any liquid stool
  • The doctor will check your colon and may take photos. If a polyp is seen, it may be removed, or, if it’s larger, it may be left until another procedure can be scheduled

After

Dr. Kalaskar explains that colonoscopies are generally straightforward procedures and often only take 30 minutes. Once your procedure is finished:

  • You will be taken to the recovery room to be monitored. Your recovery process will depend on the type of sedative you received
  • Once your blood pressure, pulse and breathing are stable and you are awake and alert, you will be released to go home
  • Your doctor may discuss the results of your exam right away, or a follow-up visit may be required
  • After you’re discharged, your caregiver will drive you home

At Home

Once you’re home, there are a few things to consider:

  • You may have gas right after the test, but please know that this is normal. Walking and moving about may help to ease any mild gas pain
  • You can usually eat whatever you feel you can tolerate after the procedure. Some people find it helpful to start with small, bland meals
  • You should not drink alcohol for at least 24 hours. You may be asked to drink extra fluids to make sure you don’t get dehydrated

While it’s perfectly normal to greet your colonoscopy with apprehension, we hope learning more about what to expect puts your mind at ease. Colonoscopies can not only detect cancer, but they can also prevent it from occurring. Talk to your doctor to learn more and find out if it’s time for you to schedule a colonoscopy.

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