What to expect when having a colonoscopy

What to expect when having a colonoscopy

If you’ve got Crohn’s or Ulcerative Colitis you likely know all about colonoscopies. In inflammatory bowel disease, patients will undergo colonoscopies to diagnose disease, monitor response to treatment and to screen for complications including bowel cancer.

But if this is your first time, you’re probably feeling a little uncertain.

What is a colonoscopy?

A colonoscopy is a procedure when a long, flexible camera is inserted into the rectum. The camera visualizes the entire large bowel and the very end of the small bowel. During the procedure the doctor may also take a small sample (biopsy) of any abnormal tissue for further examination.

Why do I need to have a colonoscopy?

The reason for your colonoscopy will depend on your individual circumstances, and it’s best to talk to your doctor about why they are recommending one. It may be to help diagnose your condition, or to complete a bowel cancer screening.

How do I prepare for a colonoscopy?

This is probably the most talked about part of a colonoscopy – the bowel prep. It’s very important to have a sparkling clean bowel for the doctor to be able to have the best view of your colon during the procedure.

The bowel prep you are given will depend on your doctor’s personal preference, but they all work in a similar way. A few days before your procedure you will be directed to start a low-residue diet. You will then progress to clear fluids the day before the procedure.

You’ll then have to take the preparation kit, which is essentially a strong laxative. The amount you take will depend on your preparation, but it’s important to follow the directions on the pack or those given to you by your doctor. Remember to keep up clear fluids, so that you don’t get dehydrated. Don’t make any plans during this time, as you’ll need to be close to a toilet. Generally, there is no pain involved, just feelings of urgency.

Your bowel movements will be quite runny. It’s a good idea to use wipes instead of toilet paper to ensure you don’t get sore. As you progress, they will become clearer, as the contents of your bowel are emptied.

What will happen on the day?

You will be in hospital for a total of 3-4 hours.

First, you will be admitted by the hospital staff. They will then get you to change into a hospital gown and go through your pre-procedure checks.

Once it’s time, you’ll be taken into theatre and placed on the operating table. You’ll be placed under sedation; most patients don’t feel or remember a thing after that! The procedure itself will take around 20-30 minutes to perform.

After the procedure you’ll be taken to the recovery room. Upon waking, you’ll be given some light refreshments. Your doctor may come and speak to you before you are discharged.

After your colonoscopy

Due to the sedation, you won’t be allowed to drive for the remainder of the day. It’s also recommended you have a responsible adult with you for the first 24 hours after the procedure.

You may also have some abdominal cramping or pass more gas than normal. These are normal reactions to the procedure.

As with any procedure, there are more serious, but rare, side effects. If you have more than a little bleeding, bleeding that lasts a long time, severe abdominal pain, or fever or chills, it’s best to contact your doctor right away.

When will I get my results?

Your doctor will likely book an appointment to go through your results with you. They may also follow you up with a phone call instead.

What if I have more questions?

It’s always important to talk to your doctor if you have any questions before the procedure. You can also call their rooms at any point in the follow up if you’re uncertain of anything.

Most importantly, know that you are in good hands. Your doctor has likely done this procedure many, many times over, and there is nothing to be embarrassed about.