Patient Education: Colonoscopy

What is a colonoscopy?

A colonoscopy is a medical procedure in which a long, flexible tube with a light and camera on the end is used to examine the inside of the colon (also known as the large intestine). The tube is called a colonoscope and is inserted through the rectum into the colon. The procedure is typically performed by a gastroenterologist.

 During the colonoscopy, the doctor can view the lining of the colon and look for any abnormalities, such as polyps or cancerous growths. The doctor may also take biopsies (small samples of tissue) for further testing.

Who should have a colonoscopy?

Doctors recommend that most people begin having colon cancer screening at age 45 some people have an increased chance of getting colon cancer because of a strong family history or certain medical conditions. These people might begin screening at a younger age.

Your doctor might order a colonoscopy if you have one of the following:

  • Blood in your bowel movements
  • A change in your bowel habits
  • A condition called anemia that can make you feel tired and weak
  • Long term belly or rectal pain that you cannot explain
  • Abnormal results from a different type of colon test (ie. Cologuard)
  • A history of colon cancer or polyps in your colon

How do I prepare for a colonoscopy?

Before a colonoscopy your colon needs to be cleaned out. Your doctor will give you a special drink that causes watery diarrhea in order to do this. It is important to drink all of it to make sure your colon is clean. If your colon is clean, your doctor will get a better look at the inside lining of the colon. A clean: also makes the test easier to do and more comfortable. Let your doctor know if you have trouble getting ready for your colonoscopy. Below our specific instructions for different types of prep that may be prescribed for you before your colonoscopy.

You may be asked to stop taking certain medications (ie. aspirin, blood thinners, iron supplements) before your procedure.

  • Consider the following diet the day before your procedure to avoid dehydration:
  • Clear, fat-free bouillon or broth
  • Gelatin
  • Strained fruit juice (no grape juice or red colored liquids)
  • Water
  • Plain and unsweetened coffee or tea
  • Diet soda

Refer to our Prep Instructionsfor more detailed instructions


What can I expect before, during, and after the procedure?


You will be asked to change into a gown before your procedure. Your doctor will give you medicine to make you feel relaxed. Then they will put a thin tube with a camera and light on the end into your anus and up into the rectum and colon. Your doctor will then look at the inside lining of the whole colon.

We understand that no one looks forward to a colonoscopy and we are aware of the sensitive nature of this GI procedure. It is our mission to preserve dignity and maintain strict privacy during your procedure.


During the procedure, your doctor might do a test called a biopsy. During a biopsy, a doctor takes a small piece of tissue from the colon. Then they look at the tissue under a microscope to see if it has cancer. Your doctor might also remove growths that they see in the colon. You will not be able to feel if the doctor takes a biopsy or removes a growth.


Your doctor may recommend that patients do not drive or go to work for the rest of the day. You will be provided with instructions on eating as usual and when you can start taking any medicines you had stopped before the test.


What is found during a colonoscopy?

During a colonoscopy, the doctor can directly view the inside of the colon and look for any abnormalities, such as polyps or cancerous growths. The doctor may also take biopsies (small samples of tissue) for further testing.

Some possible results of a colonoscopy include:

  • Normal: the colon looks healthy with no abnormalities or issues detected
  • Polyps: non cancerous growths on the lining of the colon. These may be removed during the colonoscopy and sent for further testing to check for any signs of cancer.
  • Inflammation or infection: the doctor may detect inflammation or infection in the colon, which may require further testing or treatment.
  • Cancer: in rare cases, the doctor may find cancerous growths during a colonoscopy. If cancer is detected, the doctor will discuss further testing and treatment options with the patient.

It's important to note that the results of the colonoscopy may not be available immediately and may take several days to a week to come back. You will be contacted if you have abnormal results that needs further workup or a follow-up in clinic.


Colonoscopy complications

Call your doctor or a nurse immediately if you have any of the following problems after your colonoscopy:

  • belly pain that is much worse than gas pain or cramps
  • a bloated and hard belly
  • vomiting
  • fever
  • a lot of bleeding from your rectum
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© Jatinder S. Sekhon, M.D.