A colonoscopy is an examination that is used to evaluate and diagnose abnormalities of the lower gastrointestinal (GI) tract. This includes an evaluation of the colon and rectum. A colonoscopy is an outpatient procedure that is often recommended to assist in the determination of the cause of a number of conditions, including:
- Sudden change in bowel habits
- Presence of blood in stool
- Abdominal pain
- Unexpected weight loss
The colonoscopy procedure is also commonly used as a tool to screen for colon cancer. In addition to diagnosis, the colonoscopy procedure can be used in the treatment of certain abnormalities of the large bowel and lower GI tract. For example, lesions or tears in the colorectal tissue can be mended, and if there is a stricture or blockage it can be dilated during a colonoscopy with the use of a specially designed balloon. In addition, polyps, which are pre-cancerous growths that develop in the colon, are able to be removed during a colonoscopy procedure.
What to Expect
A colonoscopy exam generally lasts for about 30 to 60 minutes. Prior to the procedure you will be offered a sedative to help you relax during the exam. The instrument used during a colonoscopy exam is a colonoscope. A colonoscope is a long, thin and flexible tube. At the end of the colonoscope is a variety of tools, including a small light and camera, in addition to any other specialized attachments that are necessary for your specific condition. During the procedure, the colonoscope will be inserted through your rectum and advanced through your gastrointestinal tract as you lay on your left side. Discomfort during the colonoscopy procedure is minor, though many patients do experience minor cramping. If any abnormalities are detected the colonoscope can then be used to obtain a tissue sample, or biopsy, for further analysis.
As the colonoscopy is an outpatient procedure, you should expect to return home shortly after your procedure. You will likely be required to remain under observation until your sedative fully wears off. Due to the sedative, you will not be permitted to drive immediately following your procedure, so make sure that you have someone reliable with you during the procedure to drive you home. Immediately following the exam you can return to your regular diet and activities. A feeling of having gas or cramping may linger for the remainder of the day following the colonoscopy procedure, but should resolve itself quickly.