Colonoscopy is an invasive diagnostic procedure used to examine the inside of the colon. The colon is the large intestine that is present at the end of our digestive tract that helps eliminate the waste through the rectum and anus. The colonoscopy procedure is done by using a tool called the colonoscope. This very long and flexible tube (about 4 to 5 feet in length) is as thick as a human finger and has a fiberoptic camera with a light source at the tip.
What Happens During A Colonoscopy Procedure?
During a typical colonoscopy exam, the patient will be asked to undress and change into a hospital gown. They will need to lie on the exam table on their left side facing the television screen. A gastroenterologist will then insert the tip of the colonoscope into the patient’s anus and monitor the tissues by viewing the transmitted video from the camera on the television screen. Gradually this tip is moved up into the rectum and then the colon. As the colonoscope is flexible, it bends with the movement into the colon. It also expands the colon by blowing some air into it so that the doctor can clearly visualize the colon and easily detect any signs of abnormality.
When Would You Be Required To Get A Colonoscopy?
Your healthcare provider may order a colonoscopy to evaluate the health of your colon if you present with clinical symptoms like rectal bleeding, unexplained weight loss, bowel disturbance etc. These symptoms are generally associated with chronic inflammatory bowel disorders like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.
This procedure may also be performed to look for any abnormalities in the intestine. It is most commonly used to detect early signs of colorectal cancer. It is also used to detect presence of polyps or tumors within the intestine as well as to locate the areas of internal bleeding and inflammation.
Patients who have a history of colon cancer or those with a family history of cancers of the digestive tract are advised to get periodic colonoscopies, as they are at a greater risk for developing polyps or colon cancer. If any abnormal tissue growth is observed during colonoscopy, the gastroenterologist can collect a small specimen of the abnormal tissue and send it for biopsy. This facilitates early detection and treatment of the cancer.
Is Getting a Colonoscopy Painful?
A colonoscopy procedure is generally not painful in the majority of the patients, although some exceptions do exist. Most of the discomfort is experienced during the preparation phase leading up to the actual procedure. Generally, the patients need to restrict solid food intake a few days before their appointment and increase their fluid intake. They also need to take oral laxatives along with enemas to clear out their bowels. This causes abdominal pain, cramping and diarrhea in many patients.
On the day of the procedure, most patients are given intravenous tranquilizers to help them relax. The sedation is typically mild in nature to ensure the patient experiences least amount of discomfort, but is still alert enough to inform the attending physician if they experience any untoward pain or irritation. This helps in preventing development of serious complications. If a patient is particularly sensitive, the physician can increase the medication dose to ease pain and discomfort.
Most pain associated with the procedure is psychological in nature and stems from anxiety or embarrassment around the procedure. Patients generally describe their experience as feeling a sensation of pressure when the colonoscope is moved around the corner of the intestine and when the physician pumps some air into the intestine to clearly visualize the internal tissues.
There is no pain once the procedure is over. Patients can go home about 30 minutes after the procedure, once the side effects of the sedative wear off. Recovery time ranges from few hours to a few days depending on development of any complications.