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What to Expect During a Colonoscopy

Colonoscope in large intestine

A colonoscopy is a visual examination of the entire large intestine (colon) using a lighted, flexible colonoscope. To be certain you are comfortable and relaxed, you will be sedated through an I.V. In fact, most patients are asleep during the entire process and remember little to nothing about it.

What Happens During a Colonoscopy?

To be certain a patient is comfortable and relaxed, they will be given intravenous (IV) sedation. In fact, most patients are asleep during the entire process and remember little or nothing about the colonoscopy.

When it’s time to start the examination, patients will be asked to lie on their side. Once sedation takes effect, the colonoscope is inserted into the rectum and moved gently around the bends of the colon. As the colonoscope makes its way through the colon, the gastroenterologist can see the lining of the colon on a television screen.

Typically, the GI specialist looks all the way to the end of the large intestine, and back, for anything unusual. The entire scoping process typically takes 20 minutes to an hour. When complete, a nurse takes the patient into a recovery area, where the sedation quickly wears off. The gastroenterologist will talk to each patient about the colonoscopy and its findings.

What Are the Possible Outcomes from a Colonoscopy?

Patients should feel nothing when a biopsy or colon polyp is taken, and should experience no recovery pain.

If colon polyps (growths of tissue) are found, a doctor can remove them during the procedure. The procedure involves passing an instrument through the scope to remove the polyp, which is sent to a laboratory to be analyzed.

While the overwhelming majority of colon polyps are benign, a GI specialist will have it tested and confirm results with the patient, usually within 24 to 72 hours depending on the day of the week of the colonoscopy procedure. Furthermore, since most colon cancer starts as a benign adenomatous polyp, when these are removed, the possibility of them growing into cancer is eliminated as well.

What Happens After a Colonoscopy

It takes about an hour to begin to recover from deep sedation. Patients will need someone to drive them home because it can take up to a day for the sedative’s full effects to wear off. Patients should be able to resume normal activity the next day. If an adenomatous polyp was removed during a colonoscopy, the gastroenterologist may put the patient on a special diet temporarily.

The GI doctor will go over the results with each patient. The results of a colonoscopy are considered either negative or positive. A negative result is when the doctor did not find any abnormalities in the colon. A positive result is when the doctor found colon polyps or abnormal issues in the colon.

The gastroenterologist may recommend having a follow-up colonoscopy in as little as three months depending on the size and number of colon polyps found. If no polyps were found, the patient’s next colonoscopy will need to be in 10 years, but it could be sooner depending on factors such as family history.