People often put off routine colonoscopy screenings, because of fear, dread, and horror stories they’ve heard about the procedure. Let’s face it: No one likes to think about health issues “back there” much less see a doctor about them. Colonoscopies, however, are key to pinpointing any possible colon cancer risks as well as early diagnosis and treatment for those who have malignant growths.
Why Do I Need A Colonoscopy?
If you’re reading this article, it’s probably because your doctor has recommended you undergo an endoscopic procedure to explore your colon. Or, you may be aware of your need for a colonoscopy and you are exploring the topic. This may be because you’ve reached the age of 50, when routine screenings begin, because you have symptoms that need to be diagnosed, or because you have a family history or other risk factors for colon cancer.
Colon cancer leads to about ten percent of all deaths from cancer in the U.S., but it can be effectively treated with early detection. By identifying and removing precancerous growths, and screening these patients more frequently, many cases can even be prevented. This is why routine colonoscopies are so important. Because of their location, malignant growths in the colon are typically at an advanced stage before they become symptomatic. Without regular screenings, they all too often spread to other areas of the body before they are diagnosed.
When a colonoscopy is performed, any unusual growths — often known as polyps — can be removed painlessly. These polyps can then be sent to a laboratory for further testing to determine if they may be precancerous or malignant.
How Do I Prepare For My Colonoscopy?
Depending on the reason for the screening and your doctor’s personal preferences, your preparation instructions before the procedure may vary. For most people, however, this is the worst part of the entire ordeal. That is because a colonoscopy requires the colon to be emptied completely. In order to do this, your Los Angeles proctologists usually provide a combination of laxatives and put you on a diet of clear liquids for up to 24 hours before the test.
While the results of using the laxative preparations can be unpleasant, they are very important. If the instructions from your doctor are not followed clearly, there is a chance the endoscope will not be able to get a clear view of the lining of your bowels. This could mean the screening has to be repeated.
What Happens During A Colonoscopy?
You will be either asleep or sedated during the colonoscopy because the procedure requires either general anesthesia or intravenous sedation. In fact, most people have only fuzzy memories of the screening, and very few report any pain. You may, however feel disoriented or dizzy for the rest of the afternoon due to the effects of the sedation or anesthesia. It is important that you have a reliable ride home from the clinic, and do not drive until the following day.
A colonoscopy procedure will be performed with you lying on the exam table on your side. A long, narrow scope is used for the procedure. This scope has a light and a camera on the end, and your doctor will watch a television-like monitor to examine the lining of your colon in real time. The scope will be gently advanced into your anus and through your colon. Once it has reached the other end, it will be slowly removed, checking for polyps or any other unusual signs along the way.
You will wake up from anesthesia or begin to come out of the sedation in the recovery room. During this time, you may also experience some mild abdominal cramping. This is normal, but only lasts about an hour. Often, the cramping has resolved by the time patients wake up. You may be kept in the recovery room for up to two hours, and your doctor may brief you on any findings during the procedure before you are released.
What Can I Expect After A Colonoscopy?
Within 24 hours of your colonoscopy, you can expect to be fully recovered from the procedure. Different people handle sedation differently, and that causes the most apparent problems in the first few hours following the screening. Many people report feeling fatigued and disoriented the evening after the test, but typically feel better the following morning. Most patients can return to work the next day.
Other minor side effects from the procedure may include a bloated feeling, some sharp pains from flatulence, and gas. This is caused by the need to put air into the colon to clearly see the walls and lining during the test. This should improve within a few hours after the test.
Colorectal doctors in Beverly Hills usually give you other aftercare instructions based on the specifics of your screening. This could include reduced activity for a few days, or a diet high in fiber. It is important to follow these recommendations in order to ensure you do not develop complications or have more serious side effects.
While complications are rare, it is also paramount to understand what to watch for in the event a serious complication develops following your colonoscopy. Punctures and tears are possible, and if they are not caught during the procedure they can be dangerous. While small amounts of bleeding are to be expected if you had polyps removed or tissue samples taken, excessive rectal bleeding is the primary sign of a complication. Other signs that indicate you need to visit an emergency room or call your doctor immediately include fever, chills or severe abdominal pain.
Next, read What to Expect During a Colon Biopsy