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About colonoscopyDigestive System

Colonoscopy (koh-luh-NAH-skuh-pee) lets the physician look inside your entire large intestine, from the lowest part, the rectum, all the way up through the colon to the lower end of the small intestine. The procedure is used to diagnose the causes of unexplained changes in bowel habits. It is also used to look for early signs of cancer in the colon and rectum. Colonoscopy enables the physician to see inflamed tissue, abnormal growths, ulcers, bleeding, and muscle spasms. 

This is a procedure that is performed at the hospital or surgicenter as a same-day procedure; no admission to the hospital is usually necessary. Most patients will spend several hours at the hospital, being prepared for the procedure with the placement of an intravenous line, undergoing the procedure, and recovering from the sedation before being taken home.  For the procedure, you will lie on your left side on the examining table. You will probably be given an intravenous line through which pain medication and a mild sedative to keep you comfortable and to help you relax during the exam. This combination of medications produces conscious sedation, allowing you to be comfortable during the procedure while still being able to breathe spontaneously and retain the ability to hear and follow commands. The intravenous line serves several purposes: it allows for the giving of fluid to keep you well hydrated through the procedure; it enables the doctor to give, and it allows a route to give other medications that may be needed during and after the procedure for comfort and safety. The physician will 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, so the physician can carefully examine the lining of the colon. The scope bends, so the physician can move it around the curves of your colon. You may be asked to change position occasionally to help the physician move the scope. The scope also blows air into your colon, which inflates the colon and helps the physician see better.

If anything unusual is in your colon, like a polyp or inflamed tissue, the physician can remove a piece of it using tiny instruments passed through the scope. That tissue (biopsy) is then sent to a lab for testing. If there is bleeding in the colon, the physician can pass a laser, heater probe, or electrical probe, or inject special medicines, through the scope and use it to stop the bleeding.

Colonoscopy takes 30 to 60 minutes. The sedative and pain medicine should keep you from feeling much discomfort during the exam. You will need to remain at the hospital or outpatient center for several  hours until the sedative wears off.  The quality of the examination is directly related to the quality of the bowel preparation; liquid or solid stool can hide things that need to be seen and taken care of during the procedure. That's why it is especially important to follow the instructions given to you exactly, to make you preparation of the bowel for colonoscopy the best that it can be. Your colon must be completely empty for the colonoscopy to be thorough and safe. To prepare for the procedure you may have to follow a liquid diet for 1 to 3 days beforehand. A liquid diet means fat-free bouillon or broth, Jell-O, strained fruit juice, water, plain coffee, plain tea, or diet soda. You may need to take laxatives or an enema before the procedure. Also, you must arrange for someone to take you home afterward--you will not be allowed to drive because of the sedatives.

Colonoscopy is quite safe. However, as in any invasive procedure, there is always a possibility that problems can occur during and after the procedure. Physicians review the risks and anticipated benefits of the procedure with you beforehand, individualized to each person.  As part of most hospital standards, you will be asked to sign an informed consent that basically outlines the general risks of gastrointestinal endoscopy. During the procedures there is a small risk of bleeding, more likely when a biopsy is taken or a growth removed. This is usually treated conservatively, but on extremely rare occasions a transfusion could be needed. Infection is a risk in any invasive procedure like colonoscopy. In exceedingly rare circumstances a perforation (puncture) of the colon may occur along the course where the scope travels or where a polyp is removed. This condition will usually require surgery although there are some circumstances where this is not necessary. As noted above, most procedures are done with the aid of conscious sedation. This form of sedation is highly individualized to provide patient comfort while minimizing risk to the breathing and the cardiovascular systems, but some risk still persists. This is a partial list of the risks that the hospital forms include; and the most important thing to stress is to ask your physician or health care professional if you have any further questions as to what the procedure is all about!