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A colonoscopy is a procedure to look at the inside of the large bowel (colon) using a flexible telescope.

What is a colonoscopy?

A colonoscopy is a test regularly carried out in our Nuffield Health hospitals that allows our consultant to look at the inner lining of your large intestine, (rectum and colon). We use a thin, flexible tube called a colonoscope to look at the colon.

Why might I need a colonoscopy?

You may need a colonoscopy to:

Identify conditions
A colonoscopy helps identify conditions such as ulcers, colon polyps, tumours and inflamed areas of inflammation.

Investigate signs of intestinal problems
A colonoscopy can help explore possible causes of abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, chronic constipation, chronic diarrhea and other intestinal problems.

Screen for colon cancer
If you're over 50 your doctor may recommend a colonoscopy every 10 years or sometimes sooner to screen for colon cancer. Even if you have no other risk factors, age can increase your risk of getting colon cancer.

Look for more polyps
If you've had polyps before, a follow-up colonoscopy can find and remove any additional polyps. This is done to reduce your risk of colon cancer.

Are there any alternatives to a colonoscopy?

Other options include a barium enema (an x-ray test of the large bowel) or a CT colography (a special scan of the large bowel).

Preparing for colonoscopy

Before a colonoscopy, you'll need to clean out (empty) your colon. If your colon lining isn't clear of solids or liquids, then the colonoscope may not have a clear view of the rectum.

2 days before

Eat a low fibre diet to help keep your colon clear. Eat plain foods including:

  • Plain cooked chicken, turkey or fish
  • White rice, bread or pasta
  • Eggs

Avoid dark coloured foods and liquids. Things like beetroot could be mistaken for blood in your colon.

1 day before

Take a laxative.

The day before your colonoscopy, your doctor will ask you to drink laxative sachets to empty your bowels.

You'll probably get diarrhoea a few hours after taking the first sachet, so it's best to be at home all day so you're close to a toilet.

What does the procedure involve?

  • If appropriate, the endoscopist may offer you a sedative or painkiller
  • A colonoscopy usually takes 30-45 minutes
  • The procedure involves placing a flexible telescope into the back passage and blowing some air into the large bowel to get a clear view
  • The endoscopist will be able to look for problems such as inflammation or polyps
  • They will be able to perform biopsies and take photographs to help make the diagnosis.

Is it painful?

You may feel the camera going in, but it shouldn't be painful. You may also experience bloating or stomach cramps, which are normal reactions.

You may be given sedatives, painkillers or gas and air before your colonoscopy to help you feel more comfortable.

What complications can happen?

Complications are rare but possible. Rest assured that your Consultant will weigh up the risks and advantages with you when deciding if they recommend the procedure. 

Complications of colonoscopy are rare, but you could experience:

  • Allergic reaction
  • Breathing difficulties or heart irregularities
  • Making a hole in the colon
  • Bleeding
  • Incomplete procedure.

How soon will I recover from colonoscopy?

  • If you were given a sedative, you will normally recover in about two hours
  • You may feel a bit bloated for a few hours but this will pass
  • Arrange for somebody to take you home. You should be able to drive the after the colonoscopy.
  • You should be able to go back to work the day after the colonoscopy.

When will I know the results?

Before you go home, your doctor or a member of the care team will tell you what was found during the colonoscopy and will discuss with you any treatment or follow-up appointments you need. If your colonoscopy involved taking a biopsy sample or removing a polyp for examination, it may take a couple of weeks to get the full results.

Summary

A colonoscopy is usually a safe and effective way of finding out if you have a problem with your large bowel.

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