What is a Colonoscopy
A colonoscopy allows a doctor to look inside the colon, or large bowel. This is the last portion of your digestive tract, or gastrointestinal tract. The colon is about 5 feet long, and its main function is to store unabsorbed food waste and absorb water and other body fluids before the waste is eliminated as stool.
The colonoscopy procedure enables the physician to evaluate things such as inflamed tissue, abnormal growths, and ulcers. It is most often used to look for early signs of cancer in the colon and rectum. It is also used to look for causes of unexplained changes in bowel habits and to evaluate symptoms like abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, and weight loss.
The Colonoscopy Procedure
For the colonoscopy, you will lie on your left side on the examining table. You will be given pain medication and a moderate sedative to keep you comfortable and help you relax during the exam. Most patients do not remember the procedure afterwards. The doctor and a nurse will monitor your vital signs, look for any signs of discomfort, and make adjustments as needed.
The doctor will then insert a long, flexible, lighted tube into your rectum and slowly guide it into your colon. The tube is called a colonoscope (koh-LON-oh-skope). The scope transmits an image of the inside of the colon onto a video screen so the doctor can carefully examine the lining of the colon. The scope bends so the doctor can move it around the curves of your colon.
You may be asked to change positions at times so the doctor can more easily move the scope to better see the different parts of your colon. The scope blows air into your colon and inflates it, which helps give the doctor a better view.
The doctor may find abnormal growths in your colon, like a polyp. Polyps grow in the lining of the bowel. Polyps can be flat or raised. Most polyps are not cancerous, but they could turn into cancer. Just looking at a polyp is not enough to tell if it is cancerous. The doctor will remove the polyps and send to a lab for testing. By identifying and removing polyps, a colonoscopy likely prevents most cancers from forming.
The doctor can also remove tissue samples to test in the lab for diseases of the colon (biopsy). In addition, if any bleeding occurs in the colon, the doctor can pass a laser, heater probe, electrical probe, or special medicines through the scope to stop the bleeding. The tissue removal and treatments to stop bleeding usually do not cause pain. In many cases, a colonoscopy allows for accurate diagnosis and treatment of colon abnormalities without the need for a major operation.
When the doctor has finished, the colonoscope is slowly withdrawn while the lining of your bowel is carefully examined. Bleeding and puncture of the colon are possible but uncommon complications of a colonoscopy.
How Much Time Does a Colonoscopy Take
A colonoscopy usually takes 30 to 60 minutes. The sedative and pain medicine keep from feeling discomfort during the exam. You may feel some cramping or the sensation of having gas after the procedure is completed, but it usually stops within an hour. You will need to remain at the colonoscopy facility for 1 to 2 hours so the sedative can wear off.
There are very few risks with a colonoscopy procedure, especially when it is performed by an experienced physician. Rarely do complications happen. Some of the risks are: Bleeding from where a polyp was removed or where a tissue sample was taken (biopsy), an adverse reaction to the sedative used, or a tear or perforation. At Colon Rectal Health Center we have performed thousands of colonoscopy procedures.
Please read your discharge instructions carefully. Medications such as blood-thinners may need to be stopped for a short time after having your colonoscopy, especially if a biopsy was performed or polyps were removed. Full recovery by the next day is normal and expected and you may return to your regular activities.