A colonoscopy is a test used by a physician to examine the large intestine and rectum for any changes or abnormalities. The test is performed by inserting a colonoscope, which is a long flexible tube with a tiny camera attached to the tip, into the patient’s rectum and colon. If necessary, any polyps can be removed, or biopsies of abnormal tissue can be taken during this procedure. The doctor may suggest this procedure for a number of reasons. He may want to investigate intestinal signs and symptoms to identify causes of abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, chronic constipation or diarrhea, or other gastrointestinal complaints. The colonoscopy is also used to check for polyps and remove them. This is common for patients who have had polyps in the colon previously. The procedure is also a common cancer screening for people over the age of 50 or with a family history of colon cancer. The screening is usually carried out every ten years unless the patient has an increased risk.
The patient will usually be given a mild sedative and asked to wear a gown. The patient will also be asked to follow a restricted diet and perhaps take a laxative prior to the procedure to clear out the lower gastrointestinal tract, which allows an easier exam. During the exam, the patient will lie on his or her side, with knees drawn up to the chest. The scope will be introduced to the colon, and the doctor will allow some air to inflate the colon, allowing him to get a better look at the inside of the organ. The patient may feel some pressure when the colon is inflated, or the doctor moves the instrument, but the procedure is not known to be painful. The colonoscope has a light and camera on the tip, which feeds images back to a video screen for the doctor to review. The procedure usually takes between 20 minutes to an hour.
Following the procedure, the patient will usually spend about an hour resting in the doctor’s office or hospital to allow the sedative to wear off. The patient will need someone to drive him or her home. He or she may feel bloated or gassy for a few hours until any excess air is released from the colon. If any polyps are removed, the patient may notice a small amount of blood in the next bowel movement. The doctor will be in touch with the results of the test and suggestions for any follow-up appointments.
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