What is a colonoscopy?

Colonoscopy is a procedure used to examine the colon (large intestine or bowel). A colonoscope is a device with small camera on a long flexible tube that allows the doctor to see magnified images of the colon on a screen. Small instruments can be inserted through the scope to remove polyps or take samples (biopsies).

Why do I need a Colonoscopy?

Colonoscopy can be used for screening for conditions that aren’t causing any symptoms. They can also help diagnose the cause of symptoms such as:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Blood in stools
  • Changes in bowel habits

Colonoscopy is a way to investigate abnormalities that show up in other tests. The procedure is also used to remove polyps.

What to expect

Before the procedure the bowel (colon/large intestine) needs to be prepared so that it is cleaned out. The process may vary so follow the instructions given to you. Some of the things you may be asked to do could include:

  • Changing your diet for a few days
  • Drinking clear fluids
  • Taking laxatives
  • Fasting
  • Stop taking certain medications
  • Take time off work and your normal activities while you do the bowel preparation

Immediately before the procedure a needle is inserted into the back of your hand. The medication should make you relaxed and drowsy and ensure you will feel no pain. During the procedure you lie on your side with your knees draw up towards your chest. The colonoscope is inserted into the anus. Air or carbon dioxide is pumped into the colon so that the colonoscope can move through. The doctor looks at the lining of the colon. Photos might be taken. If polyps are found they are removed and sent for analysis.

How long does the procedure take?

The procedure normally takes about thirty minutes. You can go home the same day but you will not be able to drive.

What are the risks associated with colonoscopy?

The most common side effects after the procedure are bloating, wind pain and flatulence caused by the gas pumped into the colon.
Rare complications include:

  • Intolerance to the bowel preparation medication
  • Reactions to the sedation
  • Bleeding
  • Perforation of the colon
  • Damage to the spleen