If you’ve suffered from abdominal pain, bleeding and changes in bowel habits, or are potentially at risk of developing colon cancer, your doctor will likely recommend a colonoscopy. The procedure helps identify the causes of colorectal conditions and can aid in cancer treatment and prevention.
A colonoscopy, also known as a lower GI endoscopy, is a diagnostic procedure used to image, inspect and diagnose conditions within the lower gastrointestinal tract and digestive system.
Similar to an upper endoscopy, a colonoscopy uses a type of endoscope (a thin and responsive tube with a tiny camera at the end) called a colonoscope. The colonoscope is inserted through your rectum and displays images of your colon through a monitor in real-time.
With a colonoscopy, your doctor can carefully evaluate sensitive conditions like ulcers, polyps, cancer, or other colorectal issues such as inflammation and infections. The detailed images created by the colonoscope also allow for accurate diagnoses of colon cancer and help determine next steps for cancer treatment.
Because colonoscopies require entry into the gastrointestinal tract, your doctor will also ask that you prepare your bowels before the procedure. This preparation may take place up to three days before your colonoscopy and will require you to alter your diet and take medication that is designed to cleanse your colon. Having your colon completely cleansed and free of any matter will ensure your procedure is safe and yields accurate results.
During your procedure, your team of caregivers will insert an IV line into your arm in order to provide medication and necessary sedatives. You will also be given oxygen to breathe. Your doctor will ask that you lie on your left side in the fetal position (bringing your knees up to your chest).
Your doctor will then insert the lubricated colonoscope through your rectum. You may feel slight pressure or cramping. You will be given sedatives to reduce any discomfort you may feel.
As your doctor examines your colon, they may use the colonoscope to clean the colon lining, remove any liquid stool, or remove polyps. Should your doctor notice any abnormality within the colon, they may take a sample of tissue (biopsy) for further analysis.
Once the procedure is done, you will be taken to a recovery room. Depending on the type of sedatives and anesthesia provided, you will likely be discharged within an hour. Read more about what to know before your colonoscopy.
A colonoscopy is generally a safe diagnostic procedure. Despite the unlikelihood of a complication occurring, the procedure does carry certain risks. These risks include nausea, bloating and rectal irritation. There is also a slight risk of bleeding should a biopsy or polyp removal take place.
With a successful colonoscopy and a clean bill of health – meaning no polyps were found during your screening – you won’t need another colonoscopy for 10 years. If your doctor does find and removes polyps, you’ll likely need to get screened in five years.
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