All visitors must wear a face mask covering the nose and mouth, regardless of vaccination status | Learn More »

Colonoscopy Procedure: What to Expect Before and After

There is a lot of information floating around the internet about colonoscopies and what you should expect, but not all of it is accurate. The stories friends tell about theirs may have left you hesitant to schedule yours. But we’re here to ease your mind, to arm you with knowledge, and to prepare you for what to expect when you do pick up the phone and schedule that colonoscopy. What happens during a colonoscopy may not be as bad as you’re expecting.


Colonoscopy Preparation: Before the Procedure

As you may have heard, the preparation is the most time-consuming part of a colonoscopy – and the most dreaded. But much of what you’ve heard may not be accurate. While colonoscopy prep does begin a day before the procedure, advances in preparation practices have made it much more bearable.

Diet: During the 24 hours before your colonoscopy, you will have to be on a clear liquid diet. That means plain water, clear broth and soda, and plan coffee or tea (no milk, cream or other dairy or non-dairy creamers). You should avoid anything red because the dye in red drinks can be mistaken for blood during the procedure.

The clear liquid diet is done so anything left in your digestive system during the procedure will not get in the way of the doctor seeing inside your rectum and colon. Your doctor may also recommend that you not drink anything at all after midnight the day before your procedure.

In addition to making diet changes, you will also have to take a laxative that will help clear your intestines. The laxative is now easier to swallow, and you won’t have to take as much as people in recent past had to. Following instructions is so important. If you do not, you may not be able to have the procedure, your doctor may not be able to visualize your colon well (leading to less-accurate results), or you may have to have an alternate procedure. You’ve probably heard that the prep is the hardest part of the procedure, so you don’t want to have to do it twice.

Your doctor may also recommend that you avoid certain foods for a few days prior to the procedure. Things like seeds, stringy foods (like spaghetti squash), and foods with red dyes can make the test more difficult.

Medications: If you take medications, you may have to adjust them. Be sure to tell your doctor about all medications and supplements you take and when you take them. He or she will let you know what, if anything, you need to do to adjust your medication schedule.

Other colonoscopy prep: In some cases, you may have to do an enema before the procedure. Your doctor will let you know if that is necessary.


During the Colonoscopy Procedure

When you arrive at the location of your procedure and have checked in, you will be asked to change into a gown. Most doctors will recommend a type of anesthesia called conscious sedation that will help you relax. You may be aware and able to respond if your doctor wants you to do something, like hold your breath, but you should not feel pain, and the anesthesia should alleviate any anxiety related to the procedure. You may also be given some sort of pain medication. Doctors at Beaumont work hard to ensure all our patients are comfortable throughout their procedures. If you have questions about the anesthesia we’ll use, talk with your doctor before the procedure.

The colonoscopy will take between 20 and 60 minutes. Once you are sedated, you will lie on your side, and your doctor will insert a scope into your rectum. This scope is a thin tube with a tiny video camera at the tip that allows your doctor to see inside your rectum and colon to look for polyps or other abnormalities. Polyps are little clumps of cells that grow inside the colon. Most of them are harmless and benign, but sometimes they can lead to colorectal cancer. If there are polyps present, your doctor will remove them because they are not necessary and because most colon cancer grows from polyps. Therefore, if all polyps are removed, colon cancer is basically stopped before it starts.

If your doctor sees any potentially abnormal tissue, he or she can remove tissue samples for testing. When a doctor takes tissue samples, that is called a biopsy. Any polyps or tissue removed can then be tested to help diagnose abnormalities. Your doctor will let you know when to expect the results of any tests or biopsies.


Colonoscopy Recovery: After the Procedure

After the procedure, you will stay in recovery until the sedation wears off enough for you to go home. You will probably feel a bit tired or groggy even then, so you cannot drive yourself home. Your doctor will not release you unless there is someone there to bring you home. The effects of the sedation could last up to a day, so you should not drive or operate any machinery until the following day.

You may feel gassy or bloated for a while after the procedure because of the air that was injected into your intestine during the colonoscopy. As you release the air, the feeling should begin to subside. You should feel back to normal in that regard within 30 minutes to an hour.

If you had a biopsy or had polyps removed, your doctor may recommend a special diet for a day or so to allow your intestines time to heal. Your doctor will let you know what to expect and what you can and can’t eat or drink. 

You might not have a bowel movement for a couple days after the procedure. When you do have your first bowel movement, you may notice a bit of blood. This is likely normal and isn’t cause for concern. However, if you are passing large clumps or clots of blood or the bleeding seems significant or lasts more than a day, contact your doctor. You should also call your doctor if you have severe abdominal pain, dizziness, or a fever over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

The vast majority of people feel back to normal quickly and don’t suffer any pain or serious discomfort during or after a colonoscopy – and the test could save your life. If you’re over 50 (over 45 if you’re African American) or you have a family history of colorectal cancer, talk to your doctor today about when you should schedule yours.


When You’ll Get Your Colonoscopy Results

If you had tissue removed for testing, your doctor will let you know right away. However, it will take some time to receive your test results from the lab that will confirm or rule out cancer. Your doctor may have some information for you prior to the lab test results, but the official results will come from the lab within a couple weeks. If the doctor sees anything during the procedure that seemed to require immediate attention, he or she will let you know and will talk with you about recommendations for next steps.

Don’t wait – talk to a Beaumont Doctor today to get a referral for a colonoscopy. Call 800-633-7377.