Since you will be sedated during the procedure, the most discomfort related to a colonoscopy usually is in the preparation beforehand. But understanding the purpose and options available for emptying your bowel may help make you feel less nervous about the whole process.
Purpose of Colon Cleansing
The reason you need to prepare for a colonoscopy is to clean out your bowel so that the doctor can see any polyps or pre-cancerous growths that may be present. Otherwise, without a clear view, the doctor performing the procedure can miss small polyps on the colon wall. In fact, a study conducted by researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found that colonoscopies miss polyps in about one-third of patients who don't adequately prepare for the procedure.
Prepping for a colonoscopy induces diarrhea, which can be uncomfortable. But if your bowel isn't empty, it may be necessary to reschedule you for the procedure, which means going through the prep process again.
Options for Colon Cleansing
The preparation procedure for a colonoscopy involves drinking a laxative solution or taking a laxative and drinking a salty liquid. Different doctors and hospitals often prefer different prep procedures; therefore, your doctor will instruct you on which procedure he or she wants you to follow.
Your doctor or the hospital may give you a prescription for a laxative preparation. Flavoring is added to some solutions to make it easier to tolerate the taste. If the solution your doctor instructs you to take isn't flavored, chilling it may help. You can also add some lemon or lime to make the taste more palatable. Drink the solution quickly or through a straw placed at the back of your mouth.
Another option your doctor may recommend is taking an over-the-counter magnesium citrate laxative and drinking 64 ounces of a sports drink in preparation. Whichever method you follow, you must follow your doctor's instructions carefully and drink all of the preparation solution. It may help to do half the prep the night before and the remaining half in the morning at least 6 hours before the procedure.
Side Effects of Preparation
Nausea and vomiting sometimes occur after drinking the preparation solution. If this happens, wait about 30 minutes before drinking more of the solution and then drink it more slowly. Walking may help to calm your stomach and reduce bloating.
If the skin around your anus becomes sore from passing liquid stool, use disposable wet wipes – preferably medicated wipes or wipes that contain aloe and vitamin E – instead of toilet paper. Applying petroleum jelly or soaking in a bathtub filled with warm water can help soothe your discomfort.
Along with cleaning out your bowel, you need to fast the day before you are scheduled to have the procedure. During that time, you may consume only clear liquids such as water, clear broth, ginger ale or other clear soft drinks, apple juice, weak black tea or coffee (with nothing added), and gelatin.
Avoid consuming gelatin or fluids that contain red, blue, or purple coloring as these can make areas of the colon appear red or inflamed, leading to inaccurate test results. Although you may not drink milk or fresh fruit juices, be sure to drink plenty of clear liquids on the day before your colonoscopy screening so that you don't dehydrate.