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Colonoscopy Prep Center

Get Ready for Your Colon Examination or Colorectal Cancer Screening

A colonoscopy is the best way to diagnose diseases in the digestive tract. There are many reasons you may need a colonoscopy beyond a screening for colorectal cancer. Your physician may want to investigate your digestive symptoms, follow up on findings in a physical examination or lab test or check into concerns based on your risk from family or medical history.

Whatever your reason for getting a colonoscopy, you can find everything you need to know about the procedure — and how to prepare for it — right here.

Preparing for Your Colonoscopy

Proper preparation is critical in colonoscopies. To get a clear view of your colon and prevent vomiting during the procedure, your stomach and colon must be empty. You’ll receive specific colonoscopy prep instructions telling you what you may eat or drink and when, and a detailed timeline for drinking your bowel prep liquids.

What You Can Eat Before a Colonoscopy

In the days leading up to your appointment, it's best to follow a colonoscopy prep diet that emphasizes low-fiber foods. Fiber can take a while for your body to digest, and it needs to be all out of your system prior to your colon exam. 

If you have constipation, you should start a low residue diet five days before your colonoscopy by avoiding foods like:

  • Corn
  • Lettuce
  • Popcorn
  • Legumes
  • Whole grains
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Fruits and vegetables with skin or seeds (raw or dried)
  • Tough meats

Then, the day before the procedure, you must cut out all solid foods, except for foods on the low residue diet menu and clear liquids. Water can get boring, so keep a variety of these drinks and foods on hand:

  • Clear broth
  • Black coffee
  • Tea 
  • Apple juice
  • White grape juice
  • Clear soda or sports drinks
  • Jell-O
  • Hard candy
  • Popsicles

Following Your Bowel Prep Instructions

With the colonoscopy prep diet, you’ll have an empty stomach. You must also clear out the large intestine. Anything left in your colon interferes with the gastroenterologist’s ability to see the entire lining of the large intestine. If you don’t completely cleanse your colon, it will prolong the examination and may result in more discomfort during or after the procedure. 

To ensure your colon is completely clear, you’ll be prescribed a bowel prep kit that works as a laxative to effectively cleanse the bowels. Your doctor will choose the best prep for you, instructing you to follow either Suprep instructions or GoLYTELY instructions.

The bowel prep liquid may be flavored but it still might not taste great. Drinking it cold or through a straw helps. You can try sucking on a lemon or lime after each glass to help with the taste. Or follow the liquid with an approved drink or food like hard candy. 

Make sure to follow all instructions for bowel prep, diet and medications. You may need to hold blood-thinning medications before your colonoscopy. If you still have questions, read our bowel prep FAQs.

Other Arrangements You Should Make

You need to carve out time before and after your colonoscopy for prep and recovery. For your bowel prep, it’s best to stay home and near a bathroom. Once the solution starts working, the urges are strong. 

Plan to stay home following your colonoscopy as well, because the sedating medications used may impair your judgment, alertness and coordination for the rest of the day. Clear your schedule after your appointment so you can simply relax and recover. Delay any important meetings or decisions and avoid risky activities until the day after your procedure.

You also shouldn’t drive, fly or operate machinery during this time. It’s best to arrange for transportation in advance, as you cannot be discharged without an adult there to get you home safely. You need an adult there to drive you or accompany you if you’re traveling by public transportation, taxi or rideshare service.

What to Bring With You

On the day of your colonoscopy appointment, be prepared with these items. You may want to spend some time writing things down to help complete your patient history during your visit. 

  • Insurance card 
  • Photo ID
  • List of previous surgeries and medical conditions 
  • List of all medications and dosages, including over-the-counter medications, vitamins and supplements
  • Inhaler, BiPap or CPAP (if you use one)
  • Warm socks
  • Advanced directives (if available)

This is all you need to bring with you on the day of your colonoscopy. Wear comfortable clothes — no bras with underwire or jewelry.

What to Expect During a Colonoscopy

From the time you arrive until you go home, it will take about 2 ½ to 3 hours for your colonoscopy. This covers everything from your initial medical history to receiving your going home recommendations. Your colonoscopy visit will look a little something like this:

  • Discuss your medical history. We get a few details to learn about previous health issues to help assess your risk for other digestive conditions.
  • Start an IV. We’ll hook your arm up to an IV for an infusion of fluids. You will get both a sedative and a pain-reducing medication to make the colonoscopy more comfortable. These medications will make you drowsy, but not so sleepy that you can’t be roused or tell us if you’re uncomfortable. Some patients are comfortable enough to fall asleep through the procedure and wake up and don't remember it at all!
  • Set up for monitoring. You’ll also be hooked up to monitoring equipment to watch your heartbeat, blood pressure and breathing. These monitors are used before, during and after the colonoscopy, until you are fit to go home.
  • Learn about the procedure. The gastroenterologist will explain the colonoscopy and answer any questions you have before the exam.
  • Get the colonoscopy. You’ll lie down on your side for the duration of the procedure, which usually takes around 30 minutes. A thin, flexible tube with a camera is inserted into your rectum to examine the inside of your colon. Carbon dioxide is pumped in to inflate your colon and provide a better view. Your doctor examines your colon, takes tissue samples of abnormal areas and removes colon polyps to help prevent colorectal cancer down the line.

What to Do After a Colonoscopy

After your procedure, you’ll wait in recovery until your anesthesia wears off. It typically takes about an hour. Once you wake up, you'll receive counseling about your results. Your gastroenterologist will explain the findings from your colonoscopy, recommend additional follow-up (if needed) and outline your next steps. 

Going Home Recommendations

You will be given written discharge instructions from your physician. They will go over the results from your exam and provide additional details for your recovery.

It’s normal to feel drowsy, dizzy or lightheaded after being sedated. You should refrain from the following activities on the day of your procedure:

  • Signing important papers or making important decisions
  • Driving or operating any equipment or machinery (including your car)
  • Flying in an airplane
  • Smoking
  • Drinking alcoholic beverages

Colonoscopy Side Effects

Pain is a common fear, but we're committed to your comfort. If you are worried about discomfort, please discuss your concerns with your physician prior to your colonoscopy. Together, we can work out a plan that best addresses your needs.

You might notice a small amount of blood in your stool the first time you have a bowel movement after your colonoscopy. This is normal and no cause for concern. If you continue to have bloody stools, run a fever or have persistent abdominal pain, call your doctor right away.

Understanding Your Results

Your doctor will go over the results with you before you leave. If they took a tissue sample (called a biopsy) or removed a colon polyp, it is sent to our gastrointestinal pathologist for review. Biopsies are examined to check for colon cancer or just to inspect inflammation and other abnormalities. You'll hear back about your pathology results via phone or letter within seven business days. You can also review your colonoscopy results online.

The outcome of your colonoscopy sets the course for treatment if you have a bowel disorder — and your schedule for future colonoscopies. In general, a negative colonoscopy is good. That means nothing was found and you may not need to get another colonoscopy for up to 10 years.

A positive colonoscopy means the gastroenterologists found colon polyps or other abnormalities. The size and number of polyps — and whether they are benign or cancerous — determine your next steps. Even a positive result may only warrant a repeat colonoscopy every five to 10 years. 

Still have questions about your colonoscopy? Find answers to the most commonly asked questions or calm your mind with additional answers directly from a gastroenterologist.

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