A colonoscopy is an examination that is recommended for the treatment and diagnosis of abnormalities in the colon (large intestine) and rectum. The colonoscopy exam is an outpatient procedure, and is often used to evaluate a variety of symptoms that impact the lower gastrointestinal (GI) tract, including:
- Blood in the stool
- Abdominal pain
- Irregular bowel habits
In addition to these symptoms, a colonoscopy exam may also be recommended as a preventative procedure in the treatment or diagnosis of colon cancer.
During a colonoscopy exam a tool called a colonoscope, which is a long and flexible tube, is directed by your physician into the rectum. At the top of the colonoscope there is a small light and camera that provides your physician with the ability to see the inside of your colon. In addition to providing enhanced images of your large intestine, the colonoscope provides your physician with the ability to remove polyps or take a tissue sample (or biopsy) to evaluate further.
Preparing for your Colonoscopy Exam
Prior to undergoing a colonoscopy exam, it is very important that you discuss any prior or pending medical conditions that you may have, such as pregnancy, heart disease, allergies, diabetes or any lung conditions. In certain situations your doctor may suggest you take antibiotics before undergoing a colonoscopy exam. For several days leading up to your colonoscopy exam, you will be asked to refrain from certain foods and fluids, and your physician may additionally recommend laxative use or a colon cleans to attain optimal clarity during the examination.
It is important that you follow the precautionary guidelines that your physician sets for you, as dietary and medical preparations will vary depending on your individual circumstances.
What to expect during a Colonoscopy
The colonoscopy exam is likely to last between 30 and 60 minutes, and you should expect to receive a mild sedative so that you will stay awake and relaxed during the procedure. Your doctor will then instruct you to lie on your left side and the colonoscope will be inserted in through your rectum to evaluate any abnormalities that may be present along the lining of the colon. The colonoscope contains a tube or channel that allows your doctor to pump air into your colon, which forces it to expand, allowing easier maneuverability and visibility. The introduction of air into your colon may cause brief abdominal cramping or the sensation to pass a bowel movement, but these side effects are mild and temporary. After the examination is over and your sedative has worn off, you will be able to return to your daily work schedule.