Colonoscopy FAQs

Q: What is Colonoscopy?

A: Colonoscopy refers to the medical procedure in which a physician (mostly a gastroenterologist) directly images and examines the entire colon. Colonoscopy is performed for purposes of effecting the diagnosis and evaluation of a number of GI disorders. Examples of these disorders include abnormal CT scans or x-rays, obstruction, abdominal pain, changes in normal bowel habits, bleeding, inflammatory bowel disease, diverticulosis, colon polyps and – most primal – colon cancer.

Colonoscopy is also effective for the provision of therapy. Through the procedure, any problem that is discovered is dealt with. For instance, if the physician finds there are polyps in the colon, they will be removed. Similarly, in case of bleeding, it will be brought under control.

As the primary method for screening patients for colon cancer, colonoscopy comes with a number of advantages. The most primal of this is that it will allow the physician to image abnormal findings and effect the therapy and/or removal of any discovered lesions during the examination. The procedures are, to this end, very useful in the identification and effective removal of pre-cancerous polyps.

Through colonoscopy, the doctor perform the procedure will be able to get a closer look of the inside of the entire rectum and colon. Gastroenterologists typically recommend it for purposes of looking for polyps – which are an early sign of the development of cancer. These polyps look like small growth. Unless they are discovered early and removed, they might develop into cancerous cells.

During the procedure, the doctor will use a thin, flexible, lighted, and hollow tube with a small video camera attached at the end. The tube is as thin as the thickness of a small finger. The tube is referred to as a colonoscope.

The physician will ease the colonoscope gently up the rectum and through the colon. The video, on the other hand, will transmit pictures of the inside of the colon to a screen. Meanwhile, small puffs of air will be pumped into the colon to ensure that it is fully open, which will allow the doctors to get a better glimpse during the colonoscopy.

Most colonoscopies take around half an hour. You will also be given medicine to relax and sleep during the procedure. If possible, come with someone to the test so that they can drive you home after you are done.

Your health care provider will decide how often you are going to need a colonoscopy. Typically, the recommended time span is once in every 10 years – unless, of course, you are at a higher risk of developing colon cancer. Talk with your primary physician to get a better understanding of how at risk you are, the guidelines to follow for the test, and whether you should get the tests done when you hit 50 or before you do.

Q: What is a Colonoscope?

A: As mentioned above, a colonoscope is the steerable flexible instrument used for evaluating the colon (large intestine) during a colonoscopy. Since the large intestines are usually 3 to 4 feet long – approximately – the instrument is engineered in such a way that the doctor can obtain biopsies of the suspicious areas and remove any cancerous polyps.

Q: Will It Hurt?

A: Most people who undertake a colonoscopy do not find them to be particularly painful. However, some will experience some level of discomfort. However, since the doctor will give you medication to fall asleep during the procedure, you should feel anything.

During the test, the doctor will pump air into the clean colon to ensure that it is open and ready for the best imaging. The air pressure, to this end, might cause some cramping and discomfort in the lower belly. However, you are going to feel much better after the air has left the colon.

As with any other medical procedure, however, a number of complications might arise. These include the puncture of the colon and bleeding. However, they are quite rare. Should they occur, your doctor will treat them to reduce the amount of pain and discomfort you will feel.

Q: Why Did My Physician Order A Screening Test?

A: For starters, you should keep in mind that physicians are not necessarily assuming that you have cancer when they suggest that you undertake a screen test. Rather, these tests are administered when there are no cancer symptoms – to prevent it from happening in the first place or to catch and treat it when it is at its earliest of stages.

After you start undergoing colonoscopy, the procedure will be repeated regularly – varying from one year to every 10 years. It will all depend on your particular medical history.

Based on scientific research, certain environments, behaviors, and habits are ranked among high risk factors for cancer. The presence of these risk factors might compel your physician to recommend that you undergo cancer screening. The doctor will also make a decision on the screening tests that ought to be used, as well as the frequency of these tests.

Q: When Should I Have A Colonoscopy?

A: If you have no family history of inflammatory bowel disease, polyps, or colon cancer, or colorectal symptoms, you should take your first colonoscopy when you turn 50. This is irrespective of whether you are a woman or a man because colon cancer is known to affect both sexes equally. However, recent evidence suggests that people of African descent should start screening at the earlier of age of 45 on account of the higher risk of colon cancer.

In the same way, in case you have any first degree relative (child, sibling, or parent) who has had colon cancer or a pre-cancerous polyp, you need to get the screening done at the earliest possible.

Doctors recommend that if you fall within this group, you should undergo colonoscopy when you are 10 years younger that the age of the youngest member of your family who was diagnosed with colon cancer – or at the age of 40, whichever comes first.

There are a number of additional guidelines for confirmed or suspected rare syndromes. Discuss all of these options with your physician to improve your understanding of the necessity of colonoscopy.

If you have ulcerative colitis that involves the entire colon (or Crohn’s disease), the colon screening should be done 8 to 19 years after the first diagnosis was made.

Q: What Should I Bring The Day Of The Procedure?

A: Carry the following with you on the day you are scheduled to undertake a colonoscopy:

– Insurance card

– Driver’s license (or two alternate identification documents)

– Family or a friend to drive you home

– Updates for any change of email, phone, or physical address

– Contact information for the physician who referred you

– A list of all the dosages and medications you are currently on

– A list of all the supplements, herbs, or vitamins you are currently taking

– A list with all the known allergies you have

– A guardian or parent (if you are 18 years or younger) to sign the paperwork

Q: How Do I Get Ready For A Colonoscopy?

A: Most people who have undergone a colonoscopy consider the bowel prep to be the worst part about these procedures. For the doctor to get a better glimpse of your insides and image better pictures, you should clean out your colon as much as is humanly possible.

To this end, you might be advised to avoid certain medications and foods. You might also have to go through a clear liquid diet for one day or so before you are scheduled to undertake the colonoscopy. You will also be required to take strong laxatives or enemas for purposes of cleaning out the colon.

In case you will be able to choose the day for the examination, ensure that you select on that will ensure it is easy to remain at home the day and the evening before you go for the colonoscopy. During this time, you will be able to do the bowel preparation as fully as possible.

Your colonoscopy provider’s office will provide you with the instructions ahead of time. Go through the instructions carefully because you might have to get some supplies – like gelatin and soups for the clear liquid diet. The instructions might also require that you get enemas or laxatives.

In case the instructions are difficult to follow, call the office for clarification. Additionally, ensure that you talk to the provider about any concerns that you might be worried about with regards to the bowel preparation.

Remember also that prepping for a colonoscopy will compel you to use the bathroom tons of times. As soon as you begin taking the laxatives, therefore, ensure you are close to a bathroom. This is because laxatives tend to work quickly. They will turn your stool into liquid form.

Some laxatives continue working over the long haul, meaning that you will still need to visit the toilet frequently even on the day you have scheduled your colonoscopy appointment. Therefore, ask for a bathroom as soon as you arrive without feeling embarrassed. It is perfectly normal and the staff members at the facility are already used to it.

Q: How Many Colonoscopy Preps Are There?

A: There are many different colonoscopy preparation methods. These range from liquids (without or with enemas) to pills. They are used to rid the colon of all fecal matter that might make the colonoscopy difficult.

A clean colon, to this end, is vital for the careful examination of any abnormalities or polyps that might be inside. Your physician will discuss as well as prescribe the best methods for preparing your colon. They will also take into account such factors as your physical stamina, your kidney function, your personal preferences, and your age.

The most popular colonoscopy preparation involves the drinking of PEG (polyethylene glycol). The solution will cause diarrhea, which is effective at getting rid of all the contents in the colon. It comes in several fruity flavors and you will have several hours during which to drink it.

Typically, you need to drink clear liquids while preparing for a colonoscopy. Additionally, laxative pills are recommended, and should be taken before going to bed. The pills will help with the colon evacuation process.

Over and above everything else, you should discuss the colonic preparation methods with your gastroenterologist. This way, you will be able to find a method that perfectly suits your personal preferences.

Q: What Happens During a Colonoscopy?

A: Colonoscopy is one of the easier medical procedures you can hope to go through. As such, most people even sleep right through it and don’t feel a thing. Before you start the procedure, you will need to stop eating solid foods in lieu of a liquid diet. You will also take bowel prep medication to clear out the intestines completely. After that, the actual procedure will be pretty straightforward.

During colonoscopy, the gastroenterologist will use a special device to take a good look at your large intestine. The colonoscope usually has a light source and a camera at the very end of a long flexible tube. As such, it allows the physician to get a magnified view of the insides of your colon and relay them onto a TV monitor or computer screen.

While undergoing colonoscopy, you will be required to lie on the left side with the knees bent. You will also be sedated through an IV line. After that, the colonoscope will be inserted through the anus and pushed through slowly until it gets to the end of the colon.

Then, images of your large intestine will be transmitted through the flexible tubing to a computer screen. After that, the colonoscope will be retracted slowly while the gastroenterologist looks at the images on the screen for any polyps or other abnormalities.

Any suspicious growth will be recorded through a biopsy. This will be effected by inserting small loops, forceps, or swabs through the hollow scope to allow for further investigation. Similarly, in case the doctor finds any polyps, they will be removed or burned by passing a thin wire loop right through the colonoscope.

Typically, the entire colonoscopy procedure should not take more than 30 to 45 minutes. After that, you will be moved to a recovery room where you will relax for 1 to 2 hours before the doctors allow you to go home.

Since you will have been sedated during the colonoscopy, it is highly risky to drive or operate machinery over the next 24 hours. As such, it is recommended that you take a taxi home or you bring a friend or family member to drive you home.

Q: Why is A Colonoscopy so Important?

A: Colonoscopy is mostly performed as a type of colorectal cancer screening. As such, it is useful for helping people to stay well. It also saves lives when polyps are found and dealt with before they develop into colon cancer.

Regular testing is, therefore, one of the successful ways through which you can prevent cancer and/or discover it early and get it treated when such treatment would be easier to manage.

The removal of polyps from the colorectal region prevents cancer from starting. If cancers are found, they will most likely be at their earliest stage – small and confined without having spread. As such, it is easier to deal with the cancerous cells.

All too often, however, people avoid getting these screening tests performed. As a result of the ignorance, the polyps and the cancers spread and grow without even getting noticed. This is especially when you consider the fact that colorectal cancer usually does not cause any serious symptoms or come with visible signs. By the time the symptoms make themselves manifest, the cancer would be advanced and difficult to treat and get rid of.

Therefore, do yourself, your family, and your loved ones a favor by going for a colonoscopy. Regular screening is, perhaps, the best way to discover rectal and colon cancers when they are in their early stages. Ask your primary health care provider about the options open to you with regards to colonoscopy.

Q: Is Colonoscopy Painful?  

A: In most cases, colonoscopy is not painful. This is because almost all of the procedures will be performed using twilight sedation or intravenous sedation. As such, you will feel very drowsy during the procedure while still continuing to breathe on your own.

Some of the sedatives, however, do come with mild amnesiac effects. As a result, most patients will not be able to remember how the procedure felt like.

Your doctor will discuss the best sedatives for your particular needs before you undergo colonoscopy.

Q: Are There Any Complications Associated With Colonoscopy?

A: All medical procedures carry one complication or another. However, in the case of colonoscopy, the procedure is perfectly safe and carries minimal risk. This, of course, will be the case when you get yours performed by a trained and qualified gastroenterologist who has experience performing these procedures.

One rare possible complication that you should be aware of is perforation. This means that the colon wall might get torn, leading to intestinal fluids leaking out. Luckily, this is easy to manage with intravenous fluids and antibiotics. At times, surgery might be required to treat the perforation fully.

In the same way, you might experience bleeding on the site of the polyp or biopsy removal. The great thing is that such bleeding is minor in most cases and will eventually stop on its own. In rare cases, surgery or transfusions might be required.

Additionally, you might feel some localized irritation around the site where the medication was injected. A small, tender lump will develop and remain therefore a couple of weeks/months. With time, it will go away.

Other risks include complications from totally unrelated diseases – such as stroke or heart disease – and drug reactions.

In short, with colonoscopy, the complications are very rare. However, they do happen from time to time. Therefore, talk to your gastroenterologist before you undertake the procedure so that you are well informed.

Q: What If They Find Something?

A: Should the doctor find a polyp, they will remove it before the testing is over. Since polyps grow into cancer, when the doctor discovers a large polyp, abnormality or tumor, they will perform a biopsy. For this, part or all of the abnormality or polyp will be taken out and sent to a lab for testing to find out if it has pre-cancer or cancer cells.

Q: How Will I Feel After My Colonoscopy?

A: As a result of the sedative administered during the colonoscopy, you will not be able to remember the procedure. However, you might feel a bit weak and groggy from the sedative. You might also experience some bloating or gas for the first 24 hours following the colonoscopy.

Therefore, the doctors will get you moved from the operating to the recovery room. You will also not be allowed to leave the recovery room on your own.

Talk to your primary health care provider in case you feel anything that is out of the ordinary.

Q: How Much Does The Procedure Cost? Does My Insurance Cover It?

A: Most insurance companies do cover any procedure designed to screen for colon cancer – including colonoscopy. However, the portion of the cost of the procedure that you will have to take care of will vary.

Therefore, talk to the healthcare facility to discuss your payment options and the charges associated with colonoscopy. Then, talk to your insurance provider to know how much they are going to cover.

Thanks to the efforts of various advocacy groups and national organizations, Medicare and most 3rd party payers pay for colonoscopy when it is for colon cancer screening. However, it is regrettable that the compliance rate for screen among Medicare patient is less than 30%. Get tested today without worrying about costs.

Q: Is Colonoscopy Effective In the Prevention of Colon Cancer?

A: Yes, very! Colonoscopy is effective because it allows for the detection and removal of polyps, as well as the discovery of any cancers when they are in the early stages of their development.

When the procedure is performed according to established rules and guidelines, it will reduce the incidence (number of new cases of colorectal cancer) and decrease the deaths arising from the disease.


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