What is a Colonoscopy? Everything You Need to Know

Your doctor has recommended you have a colonoscopy, but you still want to get a better understanding of its meaning. Here are some basic considerations on what a colonoscopy means and things you should do before and after the examination.

  • What is a colonoscopy?

A colonoscopy is a medical exam primarily focused on determining the presence of anomalies in the large intestine. The instrument used is known as a colonoscope, which is a large flexible tube of about one centimeter in diameter, equipped with a small video camera device.

Colonoscopy is a very powerful tool in the avoidance of colon cancer. In many cases however, a colonoscopy is previous to a colostomy, and the acceptance of ostomy surgery can sometimes be very difficult for a patient.

  • Why is a doctor recommending you to have a colonoscopy?

You are probably experiencing symptoms like pain in the abdominal region and variations in the frequency of evacuations. Also, lab tests have possibly shown blood in your stool or urine, or, anemia.

If you are fifty or older, the presence and worry of colon cancer needs to be alleviated. Doctors usually suggest a colonoscopy exam with a ten-year frequency for people over fifty.

  • How do you prepare for the test?

Previous to the exam, lab tests need to be conducted. Equally important for the diagnosis, is to know about your current general health conditions. You need to inform about any medications you are currently taking and any special health disorders, such as diabetes or allergies. Your heart and lung conditions will be checked and if you are a female, you are going to be asked for a pregnancy test.

For the procedure your colon should be cleared of solid matter. Enemas or magnesium citrate are usually prescribed. For at least 3 days before the exam your diet should preferably be based on fluids. Soup, water, energizing liquids, some fruit juices like apple juice (avoid prune and orange juice), lemonade and herbal tea can be taken in amounts suggested by your doctor, whereas solid food is mostly restricted.

Consult your doctor about medications for blood thinning, such as aspirin, ibuprofen and similar (if you are taking them), since they can stop the natural blood clotting effect and could increase bleeding after the procedure has taken place.

  • What happens in the procedure?

You will be asked to lie down on your left side on a bed, and later, be sedated for the exam. In due time, the colonoscope will be pushed through the rectum to get as close as possible to the other final section of the large intestine to allow examination of the colon. Inner surface of the intestine, and particularly the colon, will be examined to detect polyps (large and irregular tissue outgrowths) or any other type of anomalies.

Generally, small samples of tissue are taken in order to do biopsy tests to discard health conditions, such as cancer. When the presence of polyps is confirmed, they can sometimes be removed during the procedure. It has been reported that a polyp can last up to fifteen years without being carcinogenic.

Also, the intestine can be slightly blown with injected air which is passed through the colonoscope to increase visibility, but it will increase bowel movement, of which you should not worry about. You may feel cramping, but breathing deeply and slowly will allow the abdominal muscles to relax and reduce discomfort.

The exam should not last more than an hour. Then, you will be taken to a recovery room and you will rest there for the time you need to partially recover from sedation. For some patients half an hour is enough, others may need a couple of hours before doctors let them go.

  • When will you be ready to go home?

You can go home immediately after you leave the recovery room. Since you will be too dizzy to drive, you will need someone to take you home after the event. So, make sure you arrange for someone to accompany you for the entire medical procedure.

Once you are home, you could feel a minor abdominal pain, cramps and may experience some flatulence. You can follow a normal diet and drink lots of fluids, unless otherwise indicated by your doctor. However, if you have severe pain in the abdomen, fever or continuous bleeding, the doctor should immediately be notified.

Generally, a colonoscopy will yield a diagnosis and suggest treatment without any additional surgical procedures. However, if the result of a biopsy and other tests indicate that a health disorder is present, acceptance of ostomy surgery may be an issue that sometimes will require psychological and therapeutic medical assistance. Specialists of different disciplines can be consulted to get necessary help in the process of recovering health.

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