What is a Colonoscopy?

A colonoscopy is a procedure in which a doctor uses a thin, flexible scope with a camera to examine the inside of the colon. The colon is the large intestine or large bowel. During a colonoscopy, a doctor can look for signs of cancer, inflammation, and other changes in the colon.

Why is a Colonoscopy Performed?

A colonoscopy is a very important procedure for people at risk for colon cancer. It allows a doctor to detect and remove precancerous growths called polyps or abnormalities in the colon that could potentially lead to colon cancer. It is also used to check for inflammation or bleeding, diagnose unexplained diarrhea or abdominal pain, and to assess changes in the colon if there is a personal or family history of cancer.

Preparation for a Colonoscopy

In order to properly prepare for a colonoscopy, the patient may have to avoid certain foods and medications and take steps to cleanse the colon.

  • Avoiding certain foods: Generally, individuals should not eat red meats, nuts, seeds, or whole grains for at least one day prior to the procedure. They should also avoid dairy and alcoholic beverages.
  • Taking certain medications: Certain medications may need to be stopped in order for the colonoscopy to be performed safely. This includes any medications containing iron, vitamin E, aspirin, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
  • Cleansing the colon: Prior to the procedure, individuals may also need to take laxatives or enemas in order to clear their colon.

What to Expect During a Colonoscopy

The doctor will begin by inserting the slender, flexible colonoscope with a camera attached into the rectum. Air may then be pumped into the colon, allowing the doctor to get a better view of the inner lining. The doctor can then identify any areas of bleeding, inflammation, or abnormal growths in the colon. If the doctor finds any polyps, they will be removed for biopsy and further testing.

Types of Colonoscopy

  • Diagnostic Colonoscopy: This type of colonoscopy is used to diagnose infections or abnormalities in the colon.
  • Screening Colonoscopy: This type of colonoscopy is used to screen for colon cancer. Generally, it is recommended for individuals aged 50 or older who are at an increased risk.
  • Therapeutic Colonoscopy: This type of colonoscopy is used to treat bleeding, inflammation, or abnormal growths in the colon. It may also be used to place a stent or other tubing device to help with blockages in the colon.

Risks of Colonoscopy

A colonoscopy is generally a very safe procedure with a low risk of any major complications. However, there are some potential risks associated with the procedure. It is important to talk to your doctor about any concerns you may have before undergoing the procedure.

  • Risk of bleeding at the site of a polyp or abnormality removal.
  • Risk of perforation of the colon. This is a very serious complication that can lead to infection.
  • Risk of infection. A colonoscopy increases the risk of infection due to the introduction of bacteria into the colon.
  • Risk of reaction to anesthesia. If the patient is sedated for the procedure, there is a risk of having an adverse reaction to the medications.
  • Risk of tissue damage. The scope can cause trauma to the inner lining of the colon.

Bottom Line

A colonoscopy is a frequently performed procedure to diagnose and treat abnormalities and infections in the colon. It is also used to detect and remove any precancerous growths that may be present. While the procedure is generally safe, it is important to talk to your doctor about any risks. It is important to follow your doctor’s instructions before and after the procedure in order to reduce the risk of any complications.