If you’re over 50 years old, your doctor will likely recommend that you go for your first colonoscopy, a procedure used to screen for colorectal cancer — the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends adults have their first colonoscopy at this age and continue having regular screenings until age 75. The procedure should be repeated every 10 years, but if you’re at higher risk for this type of cancer, you may need to go more frequently.
Before you go for your first colonoscopy, here are six important facts you should know about the procedure:
1) Certain Medical Conditions Affect Colonoscopy Prep
There are several pre-existing medical conditions that will change the way you prepare for a colonoscopy. Talk to your doctor if you have any allergies to medication, a heart or lung condition, arthritis, or diabetes. It’s also important to discuss any medications you take, such as blood clotting drugs, iron supplements, and even over-the-counter pain meds.
2) You’ll Have to Adjust Your Diet Several Days in Advance
You’ll likely be asked to adjust your diet up to five days as part of your colonoscopy prep. Foods that contain red food coloring, nuts, seeds, or corn can interfere with the test results, so plan to avoid these items in the days leading up to your appointment.
3) Bowel Cleansing is Necessary
To see the inside of your colon clearly, it needs to be cleansed prior to the exam. For this reason, you’ll have to undergo “bowel prep” the night and morning before your colonoscopy. Carefully read the instructions that your provider gives you, and follow the directions closely.
Because you’ll be taking a strong laxative as part of your colonoscopy prep, you’ll have to stay close to the bathroom. Make sure to clear your schedule for the night before your appointment and drink only clear liquids once you begin cleansing.
4) You’ll Likely Be Awake During the Procedure
There are certain cases when general anesthesia is used for a colonoscopy, but typically, patients are given sedatives that leave them relaxed and drowsy, but conscious. You may need to shift your position during the exam, and this is easier to do if you are awake.
You may be concerned about being in pain while sedated, but the American Cancer Society explains most people only experience a bit of discomfort and cramping.
5) The Doctor Will Remove Polyps if They’re Found
It’s not uncommon to find growths, called colonic polyps, during a colonoscopy. If you have one or more polyps, the doctor will remove them during the procedure and take tissue samples for biopsy if needed.
6) You’ll Need Someone to Drive You Home
Although colonoscopies are outpatient procedures, someone will need to be available to drive you home. The sedation medication will leave you drowsy for several hours, so you shouldn’t plan to drive or operate any machinery after a colonoscopy.
If you have any questions about colonoscopy prep or need to schedule one, talk to your doctor or contact a local gastroenterology practice.