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Answering Your Most Awkward Colonoscopy Questions

Answering Your Most Awkward Colonoscopy Questions

Colon and rectal cancer are still the second leading causes of cancer death in the United States. A colonoscopy is the “Gold Standard” screening test that saves lives through early detection and removal of masses. The American Cancer Society reports that having a colonoscopy decreases your risk of developing colon cancer by a whopping 80%. Yet, many people avoid having this potentially life-saving screening because of embarrassment, fear, or misunderstanding. Gastroenterologist Dr. Josh Vandersteen has answers to some of the questions people hate asking.

Should I change my diet in the days or weeks before a colonoscopy?

The less you have in your gut before flushing your colon, the easier the process will be. People report that eating smaller, lighter meals a few days before their colonoscopy helped ease the cleansing process. Eating bland food rather than spicy or rich food is also a good idea.

Why do people hate the prep drink?

You’ll be placed on a clear liquid diet the day before your colonoscopy and instructed to drink the "prep drink" which induces bowel movement. It doesn't taste great. Josh Vandersteen has a few tips to make it taste a bit better, though.

“Definitely chill your prep drink. Patients report that it tastes better chilled. You may also add in powdered flavoring like Crystal Light®, as long as it doesn’t contain red or blue coloring. Finally, try washing down gulps of your prep drink with Sprite®, Gatorade®, or another clear beverage to help remove the taste from your mouth.”

How do I mentally and physically prepare for colonoscopy prep day?

The goal of your “prep day,” or the day before your colonoscopy, is to empty out the colon in preparation for the scope. The best advice is don’t make any plans outside your home. You can queue up that show you’ve been meaning to watch, download an audiobook, catch up on emails—but most importantly, stay near the bathroom.

Colonoscopy prep will clean out six feet of your colon, so keep yourself comfortable in the bathroom with a stack of personal hygiene wipes. Some people also have A&D ointment on-hand for added comfort.

Am I in a private area for my colonoscopy?

Yes, your colonoscopy is performed in a private space. Your privacy is very important to us. If you have privacy concerns, please don’t hesitate to let us know.

What does the doctor do during a colonoscopy?

First, you’ll change clothes and wear a hospital gown for the procedure. You’ll lay on your left side on an exam table and pull your knees towards your stomach. You’ll also be given a sedative for your comfort through a tube in your arm. Your doctor inserts a thin, flexible tube-like instrument with video capabilities into your anus and moves it slowly through your rectum and into your colon. They’ll see an image of your intestines through a computer screen.

Air is inflated into your colon to give your doctor a clear view of the colon lining. You may feel or hear some of this air escape. Don’t be embarrassed! This is a natural part of a colonoscopy. Your doctor may also use small tools to take a tissue sample or remove a growth.

Finally, the scope is slowly pulled out of your anus and the colonoscopy is complete. It takes between 30-45 minutes.

Does colonoscopy hurt?

Most people don’t find colonoscopies to be painful due to the sedation. Because air is pumped into your colon, you may have some cramping in your lower abdomen which usually dissipates after the procedure. Most people dislike the bowel-prep more than the colonoscopy itself.

Will I be gassy afterward?

Yes, this is completely normal and healthy. Since your doctor inflated your colon to get a clear image, all patients will experience some degree of gas and/or cramping. According to Dr. Vandersteen,

“You’re not the first or the last person to fart inside the office; we are very used to it. In fact, I don’t let patients leave without passing gas. It helps us know that their body is recovering properly."

Can I drive home?

You will not be permitted to drive home due to the sedation. Make sure you have a ride to and from the surgical center or hospital.

Everyone at age 45 should begin screening (preventative) colonoscopies, regardless of their family history. Keep in mind that, while inconvenient and a little uncomfortable, colonoscopy is the #1 way to prevent one of the most deadly cancers in America. They are covered by insurance after age 45. If you have not had a colonoscopy, please contact us to initiate this important screening.