A colonoscopy is a diagnostic exam that uses a long, thin, flexible scope to evaluate the inside of the colon and the rectum. The scope features a light and a camera that sends images back to a computer monitor during the exam so the doctor can perform a real-time assessment of the colon and look for polyps, tumors, and areas of abnormal tissue. During the examination, special instruments can be used to remove polyps or to take small tissue samples which will be sent to a lab for microscopic evaluation. Colonoscopies are performed on an outpatient basis under sedation, so patients can return home the same day.
The day prior to a colonoscopy, patients will need to restrict themselves to a liquid diet and drink a special liquid that clears the bowel of all stool. The colon needs to be completely free of stool to enable the doctor to evaluate the entire lining of the colon. Just before the procedure, the patient will receive sedation through an IV usually placed in the patient’s arm. The patient will lie on the exam table, and once sedated, the scope will be inserted through the anus and slowly advanced into the rectum and colon. An insert as may be pumped in to gently inflate the colon so it’s easier to examine. Most colonoscopies take 20 minutes or less to complete.
Once the procedure is complete, patients will spend a little time in a recovery area before being discharged. There may be some bloating from the gas used to expand the colon, but this will soon dissipate. Because of the sedation, patients will be groggy and they’ll need to have someone drive them home after the procedure.
The American Cancer Society recommends men and women have colonoscopies to screen for colon polyps and colorectal cancer beginning at age 50 and every 10 years thereafter. People with risk factors for colon cancer may need to be screened at an earlier age and more frequently.
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