A Colonoscopy is procedure in which a flexible optical instrument is placed through the anus into the colon in order to examine its surfaces. A colonoscope is the tool used during a colonoscopy. A colonoscopy is performed for both diagnostic reasons (to determine cause of symptoms or diagnose a disease) and as a screening tool (to detect colon cancer at an early stage).
Colon cancer is a leading cause of death and it can be preventable through early detection. Most people should start screening at the age of 50. However, some should start earlier such as African Americans (age 45) or even as early as age 40 if they have a family member (first degree relative i.e. mother, father, sister, brother) diagnosed with colon cancer after age 50. If a family member was diagnosed with colon cancer at an age younger than 50, screening should begin at age 40 or 10 years prior to the diagnosis of that family member, which ever comes first.
Furthermore, if you have a first degree relative who was diagnosed with an advanced or pre-cancerous polyp you may need a colonoscopy sooner than age 50.
If you have symptoms such as changes in bowel habits, rectal bleeding, diarrhea of unclear cause discuss these symptoms with your primary care provider or a gastroenterologist as you may need a colonoscopy to help diagnose the cause.
A colonoscopy is routinely done using an anesthetic medication. This medication typically makes you fall comfortably asleep while breathing on your own. Once asleep, your doctor will place the camera through your anus and maneuver it into your large intestine (colon). Once the camera reaches the beginning of the colon it is withdrawn carefully while your doctor takes photos, biopsies (samples) and removes any polyps he or she finds along the way out. Typical recovery time is 20-30 minutes and a return to normal activities the next day.
Preparation usually involves some dietary changes in the days leading up to the procedure. On the day before the procedure you are usually instructed to consume a clear liquid diet. In the evening you are required to consume a liquid laxative to cleanse the colon of stool. Ideally, you should split the dose and take the other half early in the morning of your procedure. In general, you should carefully follow the specific instructions provided to you by your doctor. If you are confused, call your doctor’s office or after hours covering doctor.
Once you awake in the recovery room your doctor will explain the results of the procedure and update you on your treatment plan and any follow up, if necessary. If a polyp was removed or biopsies taken you can expect to wait around 1 week for results. Some doctors require you to return to the clinic to discuss while others may call you to discuss results.
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