Colonoscopy 101

Posted on 4 April 2013

Does the thought of a colonoscopy give you a bad gut feel? Fear not, it is no longer the uncomfortable experience it once was, says Dr Peter Barrow, Mediclinic consultant gastroenterologist. He tells us what to expect when it’s time to take that test…

I have been told it is time to have a colonoscopy! I am terrified – why do I have to do this?
Many people get nervous when it comes to time to have a colonoscopy, so even though experts recommend colonoscopies for anyone over 50, many of us procrastinate. But consider this: a colonoscopy can stop colon cancer before it even begins. Considering colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths, this could save your life. Plus, it is no longer what it once was. These days the bowel-cleansing products are gentler and most people sleep through the procedure.

Why do I need to cleanse my bowel?
A colonoscopy will allow your doctor to take a good look at the inside of your large intestine or colon using an extremely flexible, thin tube with a tiny camera which would show up any problems such as ulcers, colon polyps (pre-cancerous growths), tumours, inflammation or bleeding. The cleaner your colon, the more the doctor can see!

Is the preparation as bad as I’ve heard?
These days the products used to clean your bowel are far gentler than even a few years back and, given that this could save your life, consider it a spring clean.
Your doctor will talk you through preparation, but you may be asked to:
•    Take the prescribed laxatives the evening before the test. You will need to be near a bathroom after this.
•    Avoid solid foods for 12 hours before the test, although this varies from doctor to doctor, so follow your doctor’s advice.
•    Drink plenty of clear liquids, for example, water, black tea or coffee, strained fruit juice or fat-free broth

What can I expect on the day?
You can expect to be busy for an hour or two. You’ll undress and put on a hospital gown and then you’ll be given a sedative via an intravenous (IV) line. After this you’ll be in a relaxed, sleepy twilight zone and won’t remember or feel a thing. During this time the thin tube with camera will be gently inserted in your rectum and a full examination done, which takes about 20 minutes. Perhaps a little longer if a polyp is found and removed. By the time you awaken it will be long over, and your gastroenterologist will be able to fill you in on how it went.

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Published in Expert Articles

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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