What stands in the way of many people getting the colonoscopy that could save their lives?Mihir Patel, MD, an AdventHealth gastroenterologist, or expert in digestive conditions, says one major reason is anxiety of 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 colonoscopy.
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, allowing them 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.
Dr. Patel, who is board-certified in gastroenterology, shares his best tips to minimize the discomfort of colonoscopy prep. Knowing what’s coming is an important step to overcome your anxiety. Here’s what to expect.
The One-Day Diet
The first step in getting ready for a colonoscopy is changing how you eat. In 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:
- Apple, Grape and Cranberry Juice
- Clear Flavored Liquids (i.e, lemon-lime Gatorade 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 (Some Say Carbonated Soda Can Be More Filling)
- Tea or Coffee Without Cream
All these choices have one thing in common: They don’t interfere with the 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, a patient starts taking the laxative they were prescribed. This is the least pleasant part of the preparation, but the most critical to ensuring your colonoscopy examination is as accurate as possible.
Tips to Get Through It
In recent years, there have been efforts to reduce the amount of laxatives patients take as well as improve their taste.
The amounts vary, but you’ll need to drink between two and four liters, or between one-half and one gallon.
The medication quickly causes severe diarrhea, so be sure to spend the evening near a bathroom. Here are some of his suggestions to make it a little more bearable:
- Suck on Lemon Slices, Hard Candy (Especially Menthol) or a Popsicle Between Sips of Medication to Cover the Taste
- 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
- Have Baby Wipes Ready: Repeated Trips to the Bathroom Can Cause Soreness — Having a Plan Can Help (PREPARATION H®or Vaseline® Petroleum Jelly Are Other Options)
- Have a Favorite Book, Magazine or Tablet Ready: You’ll Be In or Near a Bathroom for a Few Hours, So Be Prepared to Have Something Else to Do
- If You’re Worried About Nausea, Your Doctor Can Offer Medication to Prevent It
Be sure to drink all of your prescribed medication. 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 Procedure Day
Most colonoscopies are done in the morning or afternoon on an outpatient basis, meaning you go home after it’s finished. 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 has been shown to be 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, Dr. Patel has one final appeal: Consider your family. Colon cancer is the third-leading cause of cancer death, and regular colonoscopies are the best way to prevent it.
AdventHealth knows that how you feel can have profound effects on your physical health. We take our patients’ worries and concerns about colonoscopy preparation seriously, and helping you through it is part of delivering whole-person care.
Talk with your doctor about whether a colonoscopy is right for you.