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What is a colonoscopy

A colonoscopy is an examination of a person's large intestine, using a scope inserted through the rectum to look for causes of abdominal pain, bloody stool, irritable bowel, growths or cancer. This procedure should be done every five years after the age of 40 and especially if there is a history of colon cancer in the family.

Preparing for a Colonoscopy

The colon has to be completely empty and clean for the procedure. This will require some preparation time in advance. For example, some doctors will have the patient go on a liquid diet between one to three days prior to the procedure. Between 12 to 24 hours beforehand, the patient may be asked to take a laxative to assist in cleaning out the bowels. The laxative preparation may cause abdominal cramps, continual need to use a restroom, vomiting and gas. The bowels will be completely emptied and cleaned by this preparation, so planning accordingly may be necessary. Most of the laxative preparations are either in liquid or pill form.

Before the procedure, the patient may also be asked to have an enema, which is usually a prepackaged solution of water and soap. A nozzle is inserted into the rectum and the solution is injected. The solution will need to be held inside the rectum for a certain time, to empty the bowels. This may cause cramping and a strong urge to defecate.

The Procedure

On the day of the procedure, you will be given a mild sedative that may last for hours afterward; be sure to have someone with you who can drive you home. Most patients will not remember the procedure due to the sedative, but you will be asked to lie on your left side. The doctor will insert a scope into your rectum that projects a picture onto a screen so the doctor can see the inside of your colon. The scope is flexible so it can travel through the colon as your doctor inspects it.

If a growth or polyp is discovered, the doctor will probably remove it for further testing. Growths can cause bowel problems or possibly lead to cancer. Photos of these are also taken and their location documented. If the doctor sees signs of cancer, a small sample will be taken examined and documented. Your doctor will then provide you with options.

You shouldn't have any problems after the procedure, but if you have severe abdominal cramping or blood from your rectum, contact your doctor immediately. These cases are extremely rare. Periodic screening for colon cancer may save your life if the disease is discovered quickly enough. Schedule your exam today.

By Karen Moore

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