What stands in the way of many people getting the colonoscopy that could save their lives? One major reason is feeling anxious about not knowing what to expect.
Whether it comes from the process of getting ready for a colonoscopy or the procedure itself, worry often prevents people from getting this potentially life-saving screening. Much of that anxiety comes from false beliefs about a colonoscopy.
“As for the procedure itself, patients shouldn’t worry about pain or discomfort because sedation is used to ensure patients neither feel nor remember the colonoscopy,” advises gastroenterologist Dr. Abu Hurairah.
But some people feel apprehensive about the colonoscopy preparation.
“People should know that the bowel cleansing and preparation has a critical purpose, as it allows doctors to get a clear look at the colon, and to spot and remove the lesions that could turn into cancers,” says Dr. Hurairah.
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. Hurairah shares his expert tips to help you minimize the discomfort of your next colonoscopy prep. Knowing what’s coming is an important step to overcome any feelings of anxiousness.
The One-Day Diet
Your doctor will tell you that 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 juice or lemonade
- Clear flavored liquids (nothing with red, blue or purple color)
- Clear hard candy
- 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
“Clear liquids are important because they don’t interfere with the doctor’s ability to study the inner lining of the colon,” according to Dr. Hurairah.
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.
Dr. Hurairah adds, “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 the Bowel Prep
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 tolerable:
- Suck on lemon slices, hard candy (especially menthol) or a popsicle between sips of the laxative
- Drink the laxative with a straw to taste less of it
- Mix medication with a clear flavoring (avoiding red, blue, black or purple colors)
- Have flushable wipes and a soothing ointment ready (PREPARATION H®or Vaseline® petroleum jelly)
- Have a book, magazine or tablet ready to pass the prep time
- Talk to your doctor about nausea remedies
Dr. Hurairah advises, “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
Dr. Hurairah explains, “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, remember to consider this as one of those important milestones that could save your life. 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, so helping you through it is part of our whole-person care.
Schedule Your Screening Today
Early detection is key to protecting your life and helping you stay healthy for years to come. Schedule your screening today to help protect your whole health.