A whole lot of people avoid, put off, and just down right refuse getting a colonoscopy. Especially if they don't have any gastrointestinal issues, chronic belly pain, or change in bowel habits. But let me tell you, better to "suffer" the colonoscopy and know for sure and early than to wait and find out late.
GENERAL SURGEON, CERTIFIED BY THE AMERICAN BOARD OF SURGERY
What is a Colonoscopy? The term "colonoscopy" means looking inside the colon. A colonoscopy is an examination of the lining of the colon with a lighted, flexible tube about the thickness of your finger. Colonoscopy is the most direct and complete way to see the entire lining of the colon. It is usually done for one of the following reasons:
Prevention and early detection of cancer. If you are between 50 and 80 years old, your primary physician, nurse practitioner or physician assistant may recommend that you have a colonoscopy at least every 10 years. If you have a personal or family history that increases your risk, she or he may recommend that you start having the test at an earlier age and have the test more often. Using colonoscopy, Dr. WeirCox can find and remove growths (polyps) before they become cancerous. It can also allow her to detect cancerous growths early, when the cancer is easier to cure.
Diagnosis of illness. If you have symptoms of illness that your primary physician, nurse practitioner or physician assistant has not been able to explain, you may have this procedure to try to find the cause of your symptoms. For example, you may be having unexplained abdominal pain or abnormal bowel movements. Dr. WeirCox can check for inflammation of the bowel lining or infected pockets (diverticula) in the bowel wall.
The colon, or large bowel, is the last portion of your digestive or GI tract. It starts at the cecum, which attaches to the end of the small intestine, and it ends at the rectum and anus. The colon is a hollow tube, about five feet long, and its main function is to store unabsorbed food products and absorb water from them prior to their elimination.
The main instrument that is used to look inside the colon is the colonoscope, which is a long, thin, flexible tube with a tiny video camera and a light on the end. By adjusting the various controls on the colonoscope, Dr. WeirCox can carefully guide the instrument in any direction to look at the inside of the colon. The high quality picture from the colonoscope is shown on a TV monitor, and gives a clear, detailed view.
Colonoscopy is more precise than an X-ray. This procedure also allows other instruments to be passed through the colonoscope. These may be used, for example, to painlessly remove a suspicious-looking growth or to take a biopsy-a small piece for further analysis. In this way, colonoscopy may help to avoid surgery or to better define what type of surgery may need to be done.
A shorter version of the colonoscope is called a sigmoidoscope, an instrument used to screen the lower part of the large bowel only. The colonoscope, however, is long enough to inspect all of the large bowel and even part of the small intestine. Colonoscopy is a safe and effective way to evaluate problems such as blood loss, pain, and changes in bowel habits such as chronic diarrhea or abnormalities that may have first been detected by other tests. Colonoscopy can also identify and treat active bleeding from the bowel.
Colonoscopy is also an important way to check for colon cancer and to treat colon polyps - abnormal growths on the inside lining of the intestine. Polyps vary in size and shape and, while most are not cancerous, some may turn into cancer. However, it is not possible to tell just by looking at a polyp if it is malignant or potentially malignant. This is why colonoscopy is often used to remove polyps, a technique called a polypectomy.
How Do I Prepare for the Procedure? There are important steps that you must take to prepare for the procedure. First, be prepared to give a complete list of all the medicines you are taking, as well as any allergies you have to drugs or other substances. Your medical team will also want to know if you have any other medical conditions that may need special attention before, during, or after the colonoscopy.
You will be given instructions in advance that will outline what you should and should not do in preparation for colonoscopy. Be sure to read and follow these instructions. One very critical step is to thoroughly clean out the colon, which, for many patients, can be the most trying part of the entire exam. It is essential that you complete this step carefully, because how well the bowel is emptied determines the success of the procedure.
Various methods can be used to help cleanse the bowel. Often, a liquid preparation designed to stimulate bowel movements is given by mouth, which may cause bloating. Other laxative preparations and enemas may also be used. Whatever method or combination of methods that is recommended for you, be sure to follow instructions as directed.
And remember, you should not consume anything within eight to ten hours before your colonoscopy.
Colonoscopy can be done in either a hospital or outpatient setting. You’ll be asked to sign a form that gives your consent to the procedure and states that you understand what is involved. If there is anything you don’t understand, ask for more information.
What Can You Expect During a Colonoscopy? During the procedure, everything will be done to ensure your comfort. An intravenous, or IV, line will be inserted to give you medication to make you relaxed and drowsy. The drug will enable you to be easily aroused and cooperative, but it may prevent you from remembering much of the experience.
Once you are fully relaxed, your doctor will do a rectal exam with a gloved, lubricated finger; then the lubricated colonoscope will be gently inserted.
As the scope is slowly and carefully passed, you may feel as if you need to move your bowels, and because air is introduced to help advance the scope, you may feel some cramping or fullness. Generally, however, there is little or no discomfort.
What are the Possible Complications from a Colonoscopy? Although colonoscopy is a safe procedure, complications can sometimes occur. These include perforation - a puncture of the colon walls, which could require surgical repair.
When polyp removal or biopsy is performed, hemorrhage (heavy bleeding) may result and sometimes require blood transfusion or reinsertion of the colonoscope to control the bleeding. Be sure to discuss any specific concerns you may have about the procedure with your doctor.
The time needed for colonoscopy will vary, but on the average, the procedure takes about 30 minutes. Afterwards, you’ll be cared for in a recovery area until the effects of the medication have worn off. At this time, your doctor will inform you about the results of your colonoscopy and provide any additional information that you need to know. You’ll also be given instructions about how soon you can eat and drink, plus other guidelines for resuming your normal routine.
What Can You Expect After Your Colonoscopy? Occasionally, minor problems may persist, such as bloating, gas, or mild cramping. These symptoms should disappear in 24 hours or less. By the time you’re ready to go home, you’ll feel stronger and more alert. Nevertheless, rest for the remainder of the day. Have a family member or friend take you home.
A day or so after you’re home, you might speak with a member of the colonoscopy team for follow-up, or you may have questions you want to ask the doctor directly. Dr. WeirCox will give you a follow up appointment to discuss the findings from your procedure.