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Colonoscopy

Definition

A colonoscopy is an exam that views the inside of the colon (large intestine) and rectum, using a tool called a colonoscope.

The colonoscope has a small camera attached to a flexible tube that can reach the length of the colon.

How the Test is Performed

How to Prepare for the Test

Your bowel needs to be completely empty and clean for the exam. A problem in your large intestine that needs to be treated may be missed if your intestines are not cleaned out.

Your health care provider will give you the steps for cleansing your bowel. This is called bowel preparation. Steps may include using enemas, not eating solid foods for 2 or 3 days before the test, and taking laxatives.

You need to drink plenty of clear liquids for 1 to 3 days before the test. Examples of clear liquids are:

You will likely be told to stop taking aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, or other blood-thinning medicines for several days before the test. Keep taking your other medicines unless your doctor tells you otherwise.

You will need to stop taking iron pills or liquids a few days before the test, unless your health care provider tells you it is OK to continue. Iron can make your stool dark black. This makes it harder for the doctor to view inside your bowel.

How the Test will Feel

The medicines will make you sleepy so that may not feel any discomfort or have any memory of the test.

You may feel pressure as the scope moves inside. You may feel brief cramping and gas pains as air is inserted or the scope advances. Passing gas is necessary and should be expected.

After the exam, you may have mild abdominal cramping and pass a lot of gas. You may also feel bloated and sick to your stomach. These soon go away.

You should be able to go home about 1 hour after the test. You must plan to have someone take you home after the test, because you will be woozy and unable to drive. The nurses and doctors will not let you leave until someone arrives to help you.

When you are home:

Why the Test is Performed

Colonoscopy may be done for the following reasons:

Normal Results

Normal findings are healthy intestinal tissues.

What Abnormal Results Mean

Risks

References

Kimmey MB. Complications of gastrointestinal endoscopy. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease: Pathophysiology/Diagnosis/Management. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Saunders; 2010:chap 40.

National Comprehensive Cancer Network. NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines): Colorectal cancer screening. Version 2.2013. Available at: http://www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/pdf/colorectal_screening.pdf. Accessed October 24, 2013.

Pasricha PJ. Gastrointestinal endoscopy. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 136.


Review Date: 10/14/2013
Reviewed By: George F. Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, San Diego, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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