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What is a colonoscopy?
A colonoscopy is the most accurate test to detect colon polyps and colon cancer, and the only test where polyps can be removed. During this procedure, a doctor examines the lining of your large intestine and rectum through a flexible tube called a colonoscope. The colonoscope is inserted into the anus and advanced slowly through the colon. If polyps or other abnormalities are found, the doctor may remove them for further examination or biopsy. To produce the best and most accurate results, your colon must be completely clean. You will drink a special bowel cleansing preparation to help clean out your colon. You will also need to follow a special diet several days prior to your scheduled colonoscopy.

What happens during a colonoscopy?
Plan to spend up to two hours at the endoscopy center the day of your colonoscopy. The actual procedure takes about 20 to 40 minutes to complete.

Before the exam:

  • You will change into a gown and robe.
  • Your medical history will be reviewed with you, and you will be given a consent form to sign.
  • A nurse will insert an intravenous (IV) line into your hand or arm.

During the exam:

  • Medicine will be given through the IV line to help you relax and feel drowsy.
  • Your heart rate and oxygen levels will be monitored. If your blood pressure is low, you may be given fluids through the IV line.
  • The doctor will insert a flexible tube – called a colonoscope – into your anus and will advance it slowly through the rectum and colon, looking for abnormal tissue or polyps.
  • During the procedure, you may experience some cramping. This is normal.
  • If abnormal tissue or polyps are found, the doctor may remove them through the colonoscope for closer examination or biopsy. Tissue removal is painless.

What happens after the exam?

  • The doctor will talk with you about the initial results of your exam.
  • The doctor will prepare a full report for the physician who referred you for the colonoscopy.
  • You may have some cramping or bloating after the procedure. This is normal and should disappear quickly by passing gas.
  • Medication given during the exam will prohibit you from driving for the rest of the day.
  • Following the exam, you may resume your normal diet. Avoid alcohol until the next day.
  • You may resume your regular activities the day after the procedure.
  • A nurse will provide you with complete discharge instructions before you leave the endoscopy center. Be sure to ask the nurse for specific instructions if you take blood thinners such as aspirin, Coumadin or Plavix.
  • Any tissue samples or polyps removed during the exam will be sent to a lab for evaluation. It may take 5-7 working days for you to be notified of the results.

Are there possible complications from a colonoscopy?
Although serious complications are rare, any medical procedure has the potential for risks. A nurse will review all potential risk warning signs with you before you leave the endoscopy center. Risks include:

  • Perforation, or a tear through the lining of the colon
  • Bleeding from a biopsy site if tissue was removed
  • Reaction to medications used during the procedure