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What is a Colonoscopy?

By J. Beam
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A colonoscopy is a semi-invasive procedure performed under general anesthesia or sedation, in which a physician visually examines a patient's colon and, if necessary, removes cells for biopsy. A physician may order a colonoscopy if a patient is experiencing gastrointestinal problems or symptoms. Additionally, many physicians recommend an annual colonoscopy for patients over 50 as a screening for colorectal cancer.

Typically, a gastroenterologist, or a physician who specializes in the gastrointestinal system, performs a colonoscopy. The procedure itself involves a special scope, which is run through the rectum and into the colon, or large intestine. The images picked up by the scope are transmitted to a screen, allowing the physician to detect any abnormalities indicating a disease or disorder. Common problems detected by colonoscopy include irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease, or ulcerative colitis.

A colonoscopy is performed in a clinical setting on an outpatient basis. The patient must prepare for a colonoscopy by following a specific set of directions provided by their physician in advance. Preparation for a colonoscopy involves cleaning out the intestines in order to optimize viewing. Most patients are advised to follow a clear liquid diet for 24 hours prior to their scheduled procedure and required to take a form of laxative in scheduled doses. Physicians strongly emphasize following preparation instructions carefully, because failure to do so can cause results to be inaccurate or the entire procedure to be unsuccessful.

When a patient arrives for a colonoscopy, he or she is provided with a hospital gown and given an IV lead. The IV lead will be used for either general anesthesia or twilight sedation. Different physicians use different forms of anesthesia, but both are effective for relieving apprehension and preventing pain or discomfort during the procedure.

The entire procedure from start to finish typically takes only a couple of hours. Even though a colonoscopy is an outpatient procedure, the patient will need transportation home afterwards because of the anesthesia. Post-procedure care will be provided by the facility and most people return to their normal diet within twelve hours following a colonoscopy. The majority of patients do not report any severe complications after a colonoscopy, but if you experience problems you should consult your doctor immediately.

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Discussion Comments

By serenesurface — On Jun 10, 2012

@feruze-- I agree with you! I've had three colonoscopy procedures till now and I've always dreaded the prep part and the colonoscopy diet. Drinking the solution is one thing, but only having clear liquids and spending hours and hours in the bathroom is another.

With my last colonoscopy, I was scheduled to have the procedure early in the morning. So I took the laxatives and the prep in the afternoon and at night the day before. I spent the whole night in the bathroom, barely got any sleep at all. I even rushed to the bathroom twice in the morning!

There have also been times when I couldn't get through the prep because it would make me vomit. But the good thing is I always drink plenty of water before I start my prep. And once I get to the hospital they start an IV, so I don't get dehydrated.

By bear78 — On Jun 09, 2012

@tresa123-- Hey, I took Miralax prep for my last colonoscopy and yes, it does work as well as the other preps.

It's actually a lot better because it doesn't taste bad. I was told to mix mine with a sports drink and all I tasted was the sports drink! Most preps taste awful and it's a challenge just to get yourself to drink all of it. And the bad taste can trigger vomiting which is not good.

Like the other preps, you'll be going to the bathroom a lot with Miralax as well. Just make sure that you drink enough water, the suggested amount by your doctor so you don't get dehydrated.

I think colonoscopy prep is the hardest part about it. The procedure itself has never been difficult for me. I sleep through the whole thing and wake up when it's all over.

By SteamLouis — On Jun 09, 2012

@anon7247-- Like the article said, colonoscopy is a semi-invasive procedure, so there are risks involved. The most serious risk is perforation of the bowels.

If the tools used during a colonoscopy penetrates into the bowels creating a hole, it can be very dangerous. Contents of the bowels will leak out, causing infections among other complications. The risk for perforation is not high, maybe like two people out of every thousand. But it's there nonetheless.

That's why in some countries, especially EU countries, colonoscopy is only done if the patient has symptoms causing doctors to suspect a disorder or illness in the colon. Stool tests and sigmoidoscopy are preferred if there isn't a reason to carry out a colonoscopy surgery.

By tresa123 — On Jun 16, 2008

Does Miralax Prpo for colonoscopy, work as well as the other prep?

By anon7247 — On Jan 22, 2008

Other than the usual dangers associated with any procedure that requires anesthesia, do colonoscopies have any associated risks?

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