What is a colonoscopy?
A colonoscopy is a procedure that allows a gastroenterologist or a surgeon to visually examine the lining of your colon and rectum.
To do so, the doctor uses a colonoscope: a flexible, finger-thick tube with lenses, a light, and a tiny video camera at the end. This hollow tube is gently inserted into the anus and manoeuvred through the colon while you will be under medication to ensure comfort and relaxation. The video camera transmits images directly to a screen that your doctor uses to search for abnormalities such as bleeding, ulcers, polyps, or cancers.
A polyp is a protruding body tissue that may represent an early sign of colorectal cancer. If a polyp is benign, which is often the case; the doctor may remove it directly during the procedure and prevent aggravation. When a large polyp or other abnormal body tissue is found, the doctor may remove a small portion to examine it in a laboratory (biopsy) and then develop a treatment strategy. The procedure is quite short, lasting from 15 to 20 minutes.
Why did my doctor refer me for a colonoscopy?
A colonoscopy is an effective to way to prevent and treat colorectal issues. There are many reasons why your doctor may advise you to have this procedure:
To find the cause of your ill-being. If you have reported symptoms to your doctor that appear to be related to gastroenterological issues, the colonoscopy will help your doctor establish a reliable diagnosis.
Preventive therapy. After the age of 50, doctors advise their patients to get screening tests about every 10 years as they become more at risk of developing colorectal cancers when they get older. A patient whose family members were diagnosed with polyps or colorectal cancer is particularly at risk and therefore may need more regular screening exams.
You have a condition that increases your chances of developing colorectal cancers. People with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), rectal bleeding or those who had had a colon cancer require close monitoring. A colonoscopy may be advised to a patient that tested positive for testing of blood in stools, barium enema, or a virtual colography showing a possible polyp.
I am thinking of cancelling my colonoscopy exam …
Often times, people decide not to have a colonoscopy because they are scared of the procedure. What they don’t know is that colorectal cancer comes second in the list of the most deadly cancers for men and women in Canada, right behind lung cancer.
As with all cancers, symptoms may take years to appear and when they are finally present, the cancer has grown to a point that it cannot be treated. An early detection is crucial for successful treatment and recovery. If only a small polyp is found during the colonoscopy, it is quickly removed and the patient avoids further complications. If cancer is detected at an early stage, the chances of full recovery are high.
Remember, you should have a colonoscopy not only for peace of mind; you should have a colonoscopy because it could save your life.
How do I prepare for a colonoscopy?
In order for the doctor to get a good look at your intestinal wall during the procedure, the colon must be as empty as possible. If your colon is not clean enough, the procedure might need to be repeated.
Our bowel preparation Purg-Odan is there to ensure a successful screening (please see the Instructions section). After the colonoscopy date has been set, try to have the previous day completely free because Purg-Odan is a strong purgative that will make you do several trips to the bathroom!
Note that you might be sedated during the procedure to lessen any discomfort so you will not be allowed to drive for 24hrs after the colonoscopy. Make sure you arrange for someone to take you home, let it be a friend, a caretaker, or a relative.
What should I expect during the procedure?
The colonoscopy is performed in a hospital as an outpatient, at a clinic, a doctor’s office, or an ambulatory surgery center. It really takes only 15 to 20 minutes. However, expect to be at the hospital for about 2 hours as you will need to register, go through IV preparation as well as sedation, and finally recover after the procedure.
Before the procedure, inform your physician of any medical conditions you may have related to heart or lung disease, allergies, or if you have been administered antibiotics before the other procedures, or other medical condition that may require attention. The procedure will be done either by a surgeon or a gastroenterologist (digestive tract specialist).
After you register, you will be asked to dress in a hospital gown. A nurse will ask you a few questions, give you a consent form to sign and will monitor your vital signs.
Next you will be asked to lie on your side on the exam table. An intravenous line may be set up, as many patients are uncomfortable with this test. You may also be given an oxygen pump to provide you with oxygen throughout the exam. Medications will be given to limit any discomfort and will help you relax; they may or may not cause you to fall asleep.
To get clearer view, the doctor may pump air through the colonoscope to open up the intestinal passage. This will reflect into abdominal pressure or cramps, which will disappear after the exam is finished. If they find a small polyp they might remove it directly. If the polyp is large they might take part of it to perform a biopsy later.
After the procedure, you will be taken to the recovery room. You will be discharged about an hour later while still under the effect of the sedation. Therefore, someone must be there to take you home because you will not be allowed to drive for about 24 hours. Let the person do the driving even if you feel better, as you will be considered legally impaired. You will need a good night sleep to clear off the effects of the intravenous.
Once the procedure is done, you can start eating normally again.
Is it a painful procedure?
When asked about the procedure after it was done, patients most often say they had no reason to be so scared! In fact, people generally do not experience pain during a colonoscopy.
If you feel discomfort at any point during the procedure, do not hesitate to tell the doctor because he might be able to manipulate the tube (colonoscope) slower or softer to make you feel more at ease. Also, the staff expects the patient to be a little bit anxious so they usually do everything in their power to make the screening go as smoothly as possible!
What are the risks?
Colonoscopy is a safe procedure with very low risk when performed by special trained physicians. However, as with most medical exam, possible complications may occur:
Although very uncommon (1 chance in 1,500) there is a risk that the bowel could get punctured during the procedure.
1 in 2000 people will experience bleeding following the test – 1 in 500 if a polyp is removed.
Allergic reactions: urticarial, rashes, fever or difficulty in breathing due to intravenous medications
A lump may develop where the IV is placed. It may stay for up to several months but eventually goes away. You may apply heat packs or hot to relieve discomfort.
Very rare cases of heart problems or a stroke can occur in a patient with medical problems.
How will I feel after my colonoscopy?
People are generally OK after the procedure. Patients usually do not feel sore and do not experience after-effects. The sedation used to increase comfort will make you feel dizzy or sleepy for a moment, so there should be someone to take you back home after you are discharged. One night of sleep will get you back on your feet!
Some people feel bloated or have cramps because of the air used during the test to ease the tube through your colon. To feel better you may simply go to the bathroom … and push the air out like you would after having a good portion of beans! Note that since you did not consume solid foods for almost a whole day prior to your colonoscopy, it may take about 24 hours before your next bowel movement.
What if they find something?
The purpose of a colonoscopy is to detect and then treat an abnormality to prevent developing cancer. Polyps are often the first signs of potential cancer. If a fairly small polyp is found by your doctor, he shall be able to remove it and save you from further complications. If a tumor, a large polyp, or anything else is found, a biopsy will be performed, where part of the abnormal area is removed for further analysis. Then, proper diagnosis and treatment is developed.