Colonoscopy: What, Why, and How
Colonoscopy. The very word sounds uncomfortable. It is something that you might hear in jokes on TV, in stage whispers during a conversation, or, even worse, in your doctor's office. Many people have a general idea of what a colonoscopy is, but might not be sure exactly why a person would ever really need one or exactly how it is done. Some people, however, have heard of it, know that it is something they will probably have to get eventually when they're old, but hope to never really know anything more about it. Until that inevitable day in the doctor's office, that is. Hopefully this article will provide some clarification as to what a colonoscopy is, why a person would ever need to have that procedure done, and how on earth it is even accomplished.
What is a colonoscopy?
In very simple terms, a colonoscopy is a procedure where a doctor sticks a camera up your butt to get a good look at your innards. In more technical terms, a colonoscopy is a procedure where a doctor inserts a colonoscope through your anus to look at your large intestine and the lower part of your small intestine. A colonoscope is a thin, flexible tube between 48-72 inches in length with a camera attached to it. If needed, they will blow air into the intestines to increase visibility.
Why do I need a colonoscopy?
While they sound (and are) extremely awkward and uncomfortable, colonoscopies are necessary to help detect any potential or current health problems such as colorectal cancer or inflammatory bowel disease. It can also help to determine the cause for blood in stools, chronic diarrhea, etc.
Make sure that the prep solution is cold. If it is room temperature, it will not be as easy to drink. If it is cold, it will be easier to drink and, hopefully, you will be less likely to throw up from the experience.
How do I get a colonoscopy?
This is where the nitty gritty details come into play. There are three parts to the procedure:
1) The Prep
2) The Procedure
3) The Recovery
First, the prep. Anyone who has ever had a colonoscopy will tell you that the worse part of the getting a colonoscopy is the prep. And they aren't lying. The basic idea is that you have to completely clean out your intestines so that the doctor can get a clear look at what is going on. As of today I have had a total of four colonoscopies performed and the prep for each one has had followed the same basic principles. Your doctor will provide you with instructions, but I will give you the general idea. Starting the day before the colonoscopy, you will have to go on an all liquid diet. Juices, broths, and teas will become your best friend. I also recommend drinking a lot of Gatorade (without red dye) and water, especially if you have been suffering from chronic diarrhea. The actual prep will dehydrate you and, if you are not careful, this could result in being miserable during recovery.
The night before your procedure is when the real fun begins. Depending on your doctor's instructions, you will have to prepare some kind of solution. It might be something called GoLytely (a mixture of Miralax and salts), NuLytely (similar to GoLytely but without sulfates and less salt), or Miralax. The first two you have to get from a pharmacist. The last one you might already have in your cupboard, although you will have to have a couple containers of it in order to have enough for your prep. If you get one of the first two, then you will also be given a big plastic jug and a flavor packet (I got lemon). If you are given the Miralax option, then you can put the Miralax in Gatorade (you will never be able to drink lemon flavored Gatorade again). You mix up the preparation and, for the rest of the evening, you drink a glass of the preparation about every ten to fifteen minutes. About an hour after you start drinking the solution, you start running to the bathroom. Once you have finished the solution, you then don't drink anything until after the procedure is performed. If you follow the instructions that are provided by your doctor, then there shouldn't be any problem and your procedure should be performed with a hitch.
The next step is, of course, the actual procedure. This is, seriously, the easiest part of the whole process. At the appointed time, you arrive at the office or hospital. You get into one of those stylish hospital robes and climb into one of those comfortable hospital beds that they can roll around. The nurse will then get you all ready for the procedure by asking you a lot of questions and getting the I.V. set up. You will be asked many times what your name is and what procedure you are there for. This is always a fun moment to insert a little humor. Finally, you will be rolled into the room where the actual colonoscopy will take place. There you will talk to the doctor, be told to roll onto your left side, and be sedated. Then you will sleep blissfully while the camera is stuck up your rear and the doctor examines your intestines. It is possible that you will wake up towards the end of the procedure (this has happened to me more than once). When this has happened I have not felt anything but I have seen the screen so I could see what the doctor was looking at. In a semi-drugged state, it is quite fascinating.
Once the doctor has finished taking the requisite video, pictures, and/or biopsies then you will be taken into recovery. At this point, the doctor will discuss preliminary findings with you (hopefully with someone present). You will most likely have a follow-up appointment where the doctor will go into further detail. Within a short period of time, you will be ready to leave. The sedatives they give you wear off quickly. Then, because of the the air they use to clear the area, you will spend the rest of the day passing gas.
Safe for a few years...
And that is everything you never wanted to know about a colonoscopy. Is it unpleasant? Yes. Will you feel miserable during the prep? Most definitely. Will you survive? Most assuredly, you will. Most importantly, however, it is necessary for your health.