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Colonoscopy: What to Expect

Updated on February 1, 2014

Finding out you need a colonoscopy can be intimidating, however the more you know about the procedure, the less frightening it is.

What is a Colonoscopy?

A colonoscopy is a medical examination that allows a doctor to investigate the lining of your large intestines (colon) using a long flexible tube with a video camera. The image of the lining of your colon is shown on a monitor in the same room as the doctor performing the procedure.

The procedure generally takes about 20 minutes and the doctor may be required to take a small tissue sample (biopsy).

Symptoms requiring a colonoscopy include:

  • Abdominal pain;
  • Rectal bleeding;
  • Changes in bowel habits; and
  • Rapid or unexplained weight loss.

What are They Looking For?

  • Abnormalities;
  • Source(s) of bleeding;
  • Polyps (benign growths);
  • Inflammation; and
  • Cancer.


Your colon needs to be completely empty for the doctor to see the colon lining clearly. Before undergoing a colonoscopy, you will need to clean out the colon. This involves fasting and use of a strong laxative.

You will also need to arrange for transportation to and from your appointment. The medication used during the procedure will leave you feeling drowsy afterwards.

3-5 Days Before Your Procedure

Avoid seeds, nuts or berries, including any jam that may contain berry seeds.

Your doctor may require you to stop all blood thinner medication 4 days before your colonoscopy.


The Day Before Your Procedure

You will be required to stay on a clear liquid diet. Any liquids you can see through are permitted. This includes water, apple juice, white cranberry juice (not red), white grape juice (not purple), ginger ale, tea (sweetened, but no milk), yellow or orange power drinks (not red or blue), and soup broth.

You will also have to take a strong laxative throughout the day. Please, follow the instructions provided carefully.

The Night Before Your Procedure

Do not eat or drink anything after midnight. This includes water.


Bring all of your medication with you to your appointment.

Does knowing that you will be unconscious during the procedure remove some of the stress for you?

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The Day of Your Procedure

If you are diabetic, your doctor may require you to delay taking your regular medication until after the colonoscopy. Unless otherwise instructed, you are allowed to take your regular morning medication with a small sip of water.

Be sure to arrive on time. A nurse will have to prepare you for the colonoscopy. This includes getting you changed into a hospital gown, taking your blood pressure and going over your medical information. You may also receive an intravenous line so anaesthetics or medication to help you relax can be administered.

During the Procedure

Not all locations have enough anaesthesiologists to spare for colonoscopy exams, so depending on where you have the procedure done, anaesthetics may be administered.

The doctor will examine the lining of your colon using the camera and monitor system. It may be necessary for the doctor to add air into your colon which may cause cramping and discomfort. Any polyps found are generally removed during the procedure and biopsies are taken if necessary.


You will not be able to drive, operate machinery and should not sign any legal documents as you will be considered legally impaired.

After the Procedure

You will be taken to the recovery area until the effects of the intravenous medication wear off. It is important to drink lots of liquids to help your body flush any medication you were given for the procedure.

Your body will expel any air the doctor may have added. You may feel embarrassed about the resulting bouts of “passing wind”, but it is necessary to let it out. In order to relieve the abdominal cramping, you can try the following:

  • Take a brisk walk
  • Lay on your stomach
  • Take a warm bath
  • Apply heat to your abdomen
  • Drink warm fluids


What to Expect Afterwards

Bowel movements may take a few days to return to normal. The procedure may have caused irritation, so don’t be alarmed if you discover a small amount of blood during your first bowel movement.

Eat lightly for the first 24 hours and avoid alcohol, spicy or greasy food to prevent nausea. Gradually increase to your regular diet.

You may experience a tender lump where the intravenous was placed. Application of a heat pack or hot, moist towels will relieve any discomfort.

It is recommended that someone stay with you for the first night after your procedure. You will need quiet and rest to help you recover from anaesthetics quicker.

Possible Complications

While a colonoscopy is a safe procedure with a very low risk, there are possible complications that could arise:

  • Allergic reactions to the intravenous medication;
  • Tear in the colon wall;
  • Bleeding;
  • Stroke or heart problems in patients with underlying medical conditions.


Go to the emergency room if you experience any of the following after a colonoscopy:

  • Severe gas pains accompanied by weakness, faint feelings, nausea or vomiting;
  • Diarrhoea;
  • Fever or chills;
  • Black tarry stools; or
  • Any unusual symptoms.

Please note: This article is for informational purposes only and should never replace information given to you by a medical professional. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact your doctor.

© 2012 Rosa Marchisella


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    • I Am Rosa profile image

      Rosa Marchisella 5 years ago from Canada

      Glad to help! I know doctors don't always give as much information as patient would like or need :-)

    • donnaisabella profile image

      Donaisabella 5 years ago from Fort Myers

      Hey Rosa, you have some important information here which I believe many people will find useful. A few weeks ago, I took a friend of mine for a colonoscopy. I know that not every one gets this much information it is a great idea to know what to do when one needs to. Thanks for writing.