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How to Prepare for a Colonoscopy

There are some aspects of health care that people don't like to discuss or even think too much about. A colonoscopy is a prime example. If your doctor finds it necessary to recommend this procedure, what can you expect? How can you prepare for a colonoscopy?

Here's a straightforward guide to everything you need to know.

What Is a Colonoscopy, Anyway?

Put simply, a colonoscopy is a visual examination of the large intestine. Depending on the situation, this may involve the removal of polyps or the collection of tissue samples for further testing. Doctors will typically use colonoscopies to discover the underlying causes of abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, rectal bleeding, or a variety of other intestinal issues. Because this procedure allows your doctor to perform a thorough examination of your large intestine, a colonoscopy can be used to diagnose or even treat a number of different conditions. It is also an effective screening tool for colon cancer.

Doctors usually recommend that everyone over 50 years of age receive a colonoscopy at least every 10 years. If you have a history of polyps or other factors that could increase your risk of developing colon cancer, you may need to have colonoscopies more frequently.

The Colonoscopy Process

When you arrive for your colonoscopy, you will be sedated and positioned on your side while wearing a surgical gown. While the exact medication used for sedation will vary, doctors may use a pill or intravenous medication. Once you're comfortable, the doctor will insert a scope — consisting of a flexible tube with a lighted camera — into your rectum. The doctor can then examine the walls of the large intestine for any damaged or abnormal tissue.

Generally, the colonoscopy itself will take about 20 to 60 minutes. After the examination is done, the sedative generally wears off within an hour. The full effects, however, usually take closer to 24 hours to dissipate. Because of this, you will need someone to drive you home from the procedure.

Preparing for a Colonoscopy

If your doctor recommends this procedure, how can you prepare for a colonoscopy? Because the success — and safety — of a colonoscopy largely depends on your doctor's clear view, it is very important that your large intestine be as clean as possible.

To accomplish this, your doctor will ask you to fast the day before the procedure. This usually involves sticking to clear liquids such as water, broth, ice pops, and tea.

In some cases, your doctor may prescribe a mild laxative or an enema to ensure your intestines are clear of potential obstructions. While different doctors may choose different procedures here, most medical professionals will ask you to split the dose of the laxative, taking half on the night before the colonoscopy and the rest six hours beforehand. This pre-op process may have unpleasant side effects such as nausea and diarrhea, but these are temporary and can be reduced by drinking extra liquids before and during pre-op.

You may also feel hungry. Because pre-op requires you to fast, there's not much that can be done about this. The aforementioned clear broth and ice pops, if permitted, can help reduce the severity of this discomfort.

While the entire prospect of a colonoscopy may sound unpleasant and embarrassing, the reality is that this procedure is necessary and helpful in preventing, diagnosing, and treating a variety of potentially serious conditions. Be sure to speak with your doctor about your concerns and ask any questions you have regarding what to expect before, during, and after your colonoscopy.

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