What you need to know about a colonoscopy: Prep - the most important or worst part?
Know What to Expect From Colonoscopy Prep
Some people dread the colonoscopy prep as much as the colonoscopy procedure, but knowing what's involved can make it easier.
By Chris Iliades, MD
Medically Reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
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Just the word "colonoscopy" strikes fear in the hearts of many. But regardless of the perception, a colonoscopy is an important and routine screening examination for people over age 50.
One of the most important parts of your colonoscopy is the colonoscopy prep. If you don't do a good job of emptying out your colon, your doctor will not be able to see it clearly. That can result in a missed polyp, a longer procedure, or even the need to repeat the colonoscopy, which you really don't want.
The Colonoscopy Diet
You will need to stop eating solid foods before your colonoscopy. Different doctors have different colonoscopy diets. Some may ask you to stop eating solid food for a few days before your procedure, so get your colonoscopy instructions early and don’t wait until the last minute to read them.
Here are some common colonoscopy diet instructions:
- Solid foods will need to be replaced with clear liquids, usually for the day before colonoscopy. You may also be instructed to have nothing by mouth after midnight the night before the colonoscopy.
- A clear liquid colonoscopy diet can include water, broth, tea or coffee without cream, clear juices, sports drinks, or Jell-O. You will be told to avoid any fluids that contain red, blue, or purple food coloring.
- You may be instructed to avoid nuts, seeds, or other foods with heavy types of fiber before you start taking clear liquids.
The Bowel Prep
In most cases, the colonoscopy procedure takes less than an hour, and your doctor will keep you as relaxed and comfortable as possible. On the other hand, a good bowel flush can take about 16 hours, and your doctor will not be there to help you. This is the part of the colonoscopy preparation that most people dread.
Different doctors use different types of laxative medications and sometimes include an enema to flush out the colon, so read your bowel prep instruction carefully. This part of colonoscopy preparation usually starts the afternoon or evening before your colonoscopy.
Here is what to expect if your doctor uses the common polyethylene glycol, or PEG bowel prep:
- PEG solutions work by forcing large volumes of fluid through your colon, flushing all the waste out along with the fluid.
- You usually will be instructed to drink about one gallon of this solution, or 8 ounces every 10 minutes, until the solution is gone and nothing is coming out but clear fluid.
- The solution has a salty taste and makes some people feel nauseated.
- Once the PEG kicks in, you might experience some bloating and cramping, and you will be spending a lot of time on the toilet.
Colonoscopy Prep: Planning Ahead
Now that you know what to expect, here are some tips that can help you get through it:
- Shop for the right supplies.Pick up plenty of Gatorade, Popsicles, Jell-O, or Italian ice, but remember to stay away from red, blue, and purple varieties. Get yourself some chicken or beef broth if you like. You might also want to pick up some medicated pads or wipes to soothe your sore bottom.
- Clear your schedule.Once you start the bowel prep, you will not be straying far from the bathroom. Get some help if you are responsible for kids or aging parents. Stock up your bathroom with some good reading material.
- Drinking the PEG solution gets old quickly.You can add some flavor with Kool-Aid, add some lemon or lime juice, drink it chilled, or just hold your nose and chug it down. Sucking on a slice of lemon or a hard candy afterward helps.
- Wear loose, easy-fitting clothing.Choosing comfortable clothing will help you relax.
Remember, although colonoscopy and colonoscopy prep may not be your favorite things, having a colonoscopy can save your life. More than 50,000 Americans die from colon cancer every year, and many of these deaths could have been prevented with early detection.
Colonoscopy is the only test that allows your doctor to inspect your colon and biopsy or remove any polyps. Studies show that only about half of adults get their recommended colon cancer screening done. Now that you know what to expect and how to prepare, don't let fear of colonoscopy stop you.
Video: Preparing for a Colonoscopy
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