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What is a colonoscopy?

Colonoscopy is a special test during which your physician examines your entire large intestine for abnormalities, including growths or inflammation. The test is performed in a specialized endoscopy suite with nurses and monitors, and usually intravenous sedation.

Who should have a colonoscopy?

There are several reasons why colonoscopy is necessary. These include symptoms such as changes in bowel function, rectal bleeding, abdominal pain, inflammatory bowel disease, and anemia. Patients with a personal history of polyps or a family history of cancer or polyps should have colonoscopy to check for new growths or changes.

Colonoscopy is also performed for routine screening.

What needs to be done before colonoscopy?

In order to examine the colon, the colon must be cleared of any waste material. This is called a bowel preparation (or prep). You will be given dietary instructions and instructions for use of a special laxative.

What happens during colonoscopy?

After you arrive at the endoscopy department, you will be admitted by a nurse, have your vital signs checked, and have any questions answered. You will be asked to change into a hospital gown and a small intravenous (I.V.) will be placed in your hand or arm to give you sedating medications. The examination will be carried out in a specially equipped room, and you may watch the examination on a video monitor if you choose.

During your colonoscopy, your doctor will look at the lining of your bowel using a colonoscope, a specialized flexible tube with a light that transmits images to a video screen. If an abnormal area is found, it is possible to obtain a biopsy or specimen of the area during the procedure. Polyps and growths can also be removed during the procedure.

The exam usually takes less than one hour, you will then rest in the recovery area until the sedating medications have worn off. You will not be allowed to drive after having sedation, and you must have someone available to drive you home.

What are the risks of colonoscopy?

As with any procedure, there are risks. The risks associated with colonoscopy are small compared with the benefits. One serious risk is bleeding, which can be treated with observation, colonoscopy with treatment of the bleeding area, blood transfusion, and rarely, surgery. Another serious risk is perforation, or damage to the bowel wall. This occurs in one to two of every 10,000 procedures that involves removal of a polyp. This is treated by hospitalization, antibiotics, and occasionally, surgery. Lastly, drug reactions can occur. It is important for your physician to know all of your regular medications, and know about any allergies you may have.

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