The colonoscopy is a procedure performed by an experienced doctor and typically take 30-60 minutes to complete. Medications will be put into your veins to relax you and make you feel drowsy. You will then lie on your left side on the examining table. During the procedure, the doctor uses a colonoscope, which is a long, flexible, tubular instrument approximately one-half inch in diameter, that transmits an image of the lining of the colon. This allows the doctor to examine for any abnormalities. The colonoscope is inserted first through the rectum and then advanced to the other end of the large intestine.

The scope is bendable, which allows the doctor to move it along the curves of your colon. Your doctor may request that you change position occasionally to help the scope move along. The scope also blows air into your colon.  This helps to expand the colon, allowing a clearer image for your doctor.

It is normal to feel mild cramping during the procedure. The cramping can be reduced by taking some slow, deep breaths while the procedure is taking place. Upon completion of the procedure, the doctor will slowly withdraw the colonoscope while carefully examining the lining of your bowel.

If the doctor sees something that could be abnormal, some small amounts of tissue can be removed and analyzed.  This is called a biopsy.  Abnormal growths, or polyps, can be discovered and removed. In many cases, a colonoscopy procedure allows for accurate diagnosis and treatment and eliminates the need for a major operation.

What Do I Need to Do Before a Colonoscopy?

Prior to a colonoscopy, inform your doctor of any special medical conditions you have, including the following:

You may be required to take antibiotics before the colonoscopy if you:

  • Have an artificial heart valve
  • Take antibiotics before a dental or surgical procedure

How Do I Prepare for a Colonoscopy?

Some restrictions to diet or fluid intake may be required before you have a colonoscopy.  This varies according to your doctor’s instructions. You may need to take laxatives or to decrease solid food intake for a few days before the procedure. Also, your bowel must be further cleansed for the procedure to be successful. You will receive 2 enemas prior to the procedure so that the rectum and lower intestine will be empty, allowing the doctor to see the intestinal walls. The enema solution should be held for at least 5 minutes before it is released.

It is important that you arrange for a driver to bring you home after the colonoscopy. As you will have taken sedating medication during the procedure, it will be unsafe for you to drive or operate machinery for 8 hours after the colonoscopy.

What Happens After a Colonoscopy?

After your colonoscopy:

  • You will stay in a recovery room for about 30 minutes for observation
  • You can resume your normal diet
  • You may experience cramping or a sensation of having gas, but this often passes quickly.

Read your discharge instructions carefully. Certain medications may need to be temporarily avoided if a biopsy was taken or polyps were removed.

Bleeding and puncture of the colon are rare, but are a possible complication of a colonoscopy. Call your doctor immediately if you experience any of the following: