Colonoscopy is a procedure that can identify cancerous polyps before they turn into the tumors that kill close to 50,000 Americans every year. But many people hesitate to get one when they turn 50, as medical professionals recommend. Why? The preparation gets a bad rap, mostly because it involves drinking a lot of liquid -- some people dislike the taste -- and then letting the medication clean out the bowel prior to undergoing the colonoscopy procedure.
But doing the preparation correctly is vital so that the doctor performing the colonoscopy can see any issues. Researchers estimate that medical professionals miss as many as one-third of pre-cancerous growths because the patient did not properly prepare. So it's vital that you listen to and follow your doctor's instructions carefully.
How You Prepare for a Colonoscopy
To get ready for the procedure, your doctor will likely have you drink a substance that helps empty out the colon and ask you to avoid solid foods for a 24-hour period. You're advised to drink as much liquid as you can, except for red liquids, which may be mistaken for blood. The entire preparation process usually takes between 4 and 8 hours.
If you are on prescription medications, your doctor may adjust your dosage or ask you to skip a dose on the day of the colonoscopy. Be sure to follow your doctor's directions carefully.
Just before the procedure, your doctor may give you a medication that will help you relax. Some people are able to doze during the colonoscopy.
What Happens During a Colonoscopy
How does this preparation impact the final results of your test? During the colonoscopy procedure, the doctor puts a flexible, thin tube called a colonoscope through your rectum and into your colon. The tube has a small camera and light on the end that transmit pictures back to a monitor that's in the room with you. Your doctor can essentially thread the colonoscope through your entire intestine and look for abnormalities. If the bowel is not completely clean, the doctor may not be able to see well.
After your doctor reviews the findings, if there are no signs of a problem, you'll be able to rest for a while before having another colonoscopy. The American Cancer Society recommends that you get one done every 10 years if you are over 50 or are at increased risk -- possibly because another family member has had colon cancer.
If you have questions about whether you need to undergo a colonoscopy, talk to your general practitioner or other medical professional.