A colonoscopy is a diagnostic procedure that allows your doctor to visually examine the inside of the colon for closer inspection of irregularities.  This is accomplished by inserting a tube with a camera on the end into the anus and through the colon.  The images from the camera are viewed either through the instrument or on a display monitor.

Why is a colonoscopy performed?

Colonoscopies are performed to investigate irregularities found on an X-ray or CT scan, abdominal pain, diarrhea or blood in the stool.  They may also be performed regularly for people at risk for polyps or colon cancer.

How can I prepare for the procedure?

The colon must be completely clean to achieve accurate results.  Patients will usually be given a special cleansing solution to drink before the exam, or may be asked to consume only a clear liquid diet with laxatives or enemas.  Most medications can still be taken, although some such as aspirin or blood thinners may require special instructions.  Your doctor will instruct you on how to prepare.

What can I expect during a colonoscopy?

Before the procedure, an IV is inserted with medication to make the patient relaxed and sleepy.  The heart, blood pressure and oxygenation of the blood are monitored throughout the procedure.  During the colonoscopy, the patient lies on their left side or back as the colonoscope is slowly inserted.  It reaches all the way to the tip of the colon and examines the lining of the area as it passes in and out.  The procedure takes about 15-60 minutes.  A biopsy may be taken during the procedure if an area needs to be examined further.

What happens after a colonoscopy?

After the procedure, patients will be kept under observation for about an hour or two, until the medication wears off.  Reflexes and judgment may be impaired for the rest of the day.  Some cramping or bloating may be experienced, but should be relieved quickly.  Eating and other normal activities can resume immediately.

What are the risks or complications of the procedure?

Complications of a colonoscopy are rare and minor.  The procedure is very safe when performed by a trained and experienced professional.  If they do occur, complications can include bleeding from the site of the biopsy, perforation of the bowel wall or reactions to the IV medication.

What do abnormal results mean?

Abnormal results of a colonoscopy can be a result of:

  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Diverticulosis
  • Lower gastrointestinal bleeding
  • Polyps
  • Tumor

Further diagnostic testing such as X-rays and CT scans may be done to follow up on these results.