Understanding the Colonoscopy Procedure

The colon is the tube that starts at the end of the small intestine and ends at the rectum and anus. The colon is the last part of the digestive tract and is about 5 feet in length. The colon plays a major part in the digestive process by storing unabsorbed food waste and absorbing water and other fluids before bowel elimination occurs.

A colonoscopy is a diagnostic procedure that allows a health care provider to examine the interior of the large intestine. The large intestine can be thoroughly inspected for a variety of abnormalities including abnormal growths, inflamed tissue, and ulcers. A colonoscopy can also be used to diagnose causes of abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, and a host of other intestinal problems.

The American Cancer Society recommends that a screening colonoscopy by age 50 for anyone with no gastrointestinal problems or risk factors for colon cancer. The American Cancer Society further recommends that anyone experiencing blood in their stool see a doctor immediately. If you have a first degree relative that has colon cancer, it is recommended that you receive a colonoscopy at least 10 years before the coon cancer was diagnosed. After age 50, everyone should have 3 stool specimens checked for occult blood. If occult blood is detected, a colonoscopy should be done to determine the cause and source of bleeding.

Preparation prior to a colonoscopy is extremely important. Your colon needs to be completely emptied before a colonoscopy. This is to ensure that the procedure is accurate and safe. Your health care provider will probably prescribe a laxative that needs to be taken the night prior to the colonoscopy procedure. Some health care providers also prescribe enemas. A liquid diet will need to be followed for 1 to 3 days leading up to the colonoscopy. The liquid diet can not contain food colorings and should be clear. The diet could include fat free broth, water, plain coffee or tea, diet soda, ad gelatin. Your health care provider will be able to provide you with a complete listing of acceptable foods and beverages.

A complete medical history will be taken prior to the colonoscopy. You will need to inform your health care provider if you take blood thinners, arthritis and diabetes medications, aspirin, and iron on a regular schedule. Your health care provider should also be alerted if you suffer from any special medical conditions including heart and lung disease. You will need to make arrangements for someone to take you home following the colonoscopy procedure. You will not be authorized to drive following the colonoscopy because of the sedatives used during the procedure.

The colonoscopy will be performed while you are lying on your left side. Pain medication and a moderate sedative will be given to you. These medicines will work to provide comfort and relaxation to make the procedure as easy as possible. Your vital signs will be taken and monitored. Once you are stable, the health care provider will begin the colonoscopy procedure.

A long, flexible, lighted tube will be inserted into your rectum until it reaches the colon.
The tube inserted is called a colonoscope . The colonoscope contains a small camera which transit’s a picture onto a screen which your health care provider can easily view the colon lining. The health care provider will move the colonoscope as necessary to thoroughly examine the colon.

If abnormal growths are found during the colonoscopy, your health care provider will be able to remove them using tools carefully inserted through the colonoscope. The growths will then be sent to the lab for further testing. If bleeding is present, the health care provider will be able to stop the bleeding using heater or electrical probes.

It is normal to fell mild cramping during the colonoscopy. Try taking slow, deep breaths to counteract this effect. Your vital signs will still be monitored so try to relax. After the colon lining is thoroughly examined, the colonoscope will be slowly withdrawn to check the lining of your bowel.

A colonoscopy usually takes 30 to 60 minutes to complete. There may be mild discomfort following the colonoscopy . This pain will usually subside within an hour. You will not be discharged from the health care facility for about 2 hours post colonoscopy to ensure that the sedatives taken prior to the colonoscopy have worn off.

It is extremely important to listen to and follow your discharge instructions. Certain medications should not be taken immediately following a colonoscopy including blood thinners. You should be sure to contact your health care provider if you experience severe abdominal pain, bloody bowel movements, dizziness, weakness, or fever following the colonoscopy. Complete recovery is expected within 1 to 2 days following the colonoscopy.

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