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Lower Endoscopy (Colonoscopy)
What is a Colonoscopy?
A colonoscopy is a diagnostic test used to examine the lower portion of your gastrointestinal tract, especially your large intestine. This test is generally performed by a gastroenterologist if you have complained of:
- blood in the stool
- abdominal pain
- persistent diarrhea
- a change in bowel habit
A colonoscopy may also be ordered if abnormalities in your GI tract were discovered during previous testing. In addition, a colonoscopy is often used as a screening tool for colon cancer in people who are considered to be at risk for developing the disease.
How do You Prepare for a Colonoscopy?
In order to achieve accurate results, you must take steps to ensure your colon is completely clean before your colonoscopy. Your doctor will give you detailed preparation instructions that should be followed carefully. In most cases, these instructions will include drinking large amounts of a solution meant to cleanse your colon. You may also be asked to drink only clear fluids for several days before your procedure or use laxatives or enemas. Cleaning out your colon will usually involve several bowel movements.
In addition to following instructions for cleansing your colon before a colonoscopy, you will also need to give your doctor a detailed medical history that includes any medications you’re currently taking, as well as any current medical conditions you’re suffering from. This is especially important to prevent unexpected reactions to the sedatives that are generally used to reduce pain and discomfort during the colonoscopy.
How is a Colonoscopy Performed?
You will be asked to lie on your left side or back on an exam table and sedatives will be administered through an IV. A four foot long, flexible tube known as a colonoscope is then inserted into the anus. The tube is about the thickness of a finger and has a camera and light at the tip. Using the light and camera for guidance, the physician will carefully pass the tube through the rectum and into the colon. Once the colonoscope has reached the cecum, the tip of the colon, or the terminal ileum, the end of the small intestine, the tube will be slowly pulled out. Much of the examination actually takes place as the colonoscope is being removed. The entire procedure can take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour.
In addition to examining the inside of your colon, your gastroenterologist may also perform a biopsy or various treatment procedures during your colonoscopy. A biopsy is simply a removal of tissue for further examination and can be done for a variety of reasons.
After the procedure, you’ll be monitored by healthcare professionals until any sedatives have worn off. You may notice some abdominal cramping or bloating at this time, but this is generally resolved by passing gas. You should be able to resume normal eating when you get home, unless dietary restrictions are given due to polyp removal. You will need to have someone else drive you home and avoid operating heavy machinery for the remainder of the day.
In most cases, your gastroenterologist will be able to discuss the preliminary results of your colonoscopy before you leave. The results of any biopsies performed will take a few days to receive.
Trained medical staff at the Digestive Diseases Treatment Centers in Brooklyn and Manhattan can answer further questions about having a colonoscopy.