Colonoscopy FAQ

Preparing for Your Test

Doctors use colonoscopy to look inside your large intestine. This test helps with diagnosing conditions such as abnormal growths, inflammation and ulcers. It’s also used to find early signs of colon cancer and rectal cancer.

When you have a colonoscopy, your doctor gives you instructions about how to prepare. This involves steps that clean out your colon so your doctor can get the best view of the area during your exam.

Answers to Questions About Colonoscopy

Even if you’ve had a colonoscopy before, you may still have questions. The following answers can help you be better informed and more comfortable as you prepare for a colonoscopy.

What Happens During a Colonoscopy?

Colonoscopy usually proceeds with these steps:

  • You lie on your side or back.
  • Your doctor slides a thin tube, called a colonoscope, through your colon to examine the inside.
  • You may feel pressure, bloating or cramping, but usually no pain.
  • If your doctor cannot see your entire colon with the colonoscope, he or she may do an X-ray.

In most cases, patients are given medication to help them relax and feel more comfortable during the exam. The exam usually takes 45–60 minutes, but plan on being at the hospital or clinic for two to three hours, including waiting, preparation and recovery time. Make sure you bring someone with you to drive you home.

What If My Colonoscopy Shows Something Unusual?

  • If your doctor finds an area of your colon that looks unusual, he or she may take a small tissue sample called a biopsy from that spot to look at it further. A biopsy can be used to test for many different conditions, not just cancer.
  • If your doctor finds bleeding in your colon, he or she may inject medication or use coagulation to control the bleeding. Coagulation uses heat to seal off blood vessels that are bleeding.
  • If your doctor finds one or more polyps (small clumps of cells on the inside of your colon), he or she usually removes them for biopsy during your colonoscopy.

The above procedures do not usually cause pain.

Do I Need To Bring Anything With Me to The Test?

Yes, you should bring the following:

  • A list of your most current prescription and over-the-counter medications, vitamins and herbal supplements.
  • A list of your health conditions and any surgeries you have had.
  • Something to read or listen to, since you may have to wait for a short time.

Why Do I Need To Avoid Red Liquids?

You are asked to avoid these liquids because the red coloring can stay in the colon and might look like blood. Some doctors might ask you to avoid purple liquids for the same reasons.

What Should I Do If I Feel Too Sick To Drink All the Prep Liquid?

This happens sometimes, but it’s important that you finish drinking the prep. If you feel sick to your stomach or vomit, wait until you feel better and then start drinking again. Drink the prep more slowly. You can also try drinking some ginger ale or a cup of hot tea (without milk) to settle your stomach.

I Have Finished the Prep and Have Not Had a Bowel Movement Yet. Should I Be Concerned?

No, you don’t need to be concerned. Each patient is different. Most have a bowel movement after one hour. But sometimes, it may take three to four hours for the prep to start working.

I’m Having Watery Bowel Movements. Do I Still Need to Finish the Prep?

Yes, you need to finish the entire prep. It is important to completely clean out your whole colon. If your whole colon is not cleaned out, you might need to come back for a second test.

Can I Drink Alcohol the Day Before the Test?

No, alcohol makes you dehydrated because you lose more fluids than you take in. It can also affect how the relaxation medication works. You should drink a lot of clear liquids the day before your test, but not alcohol.

Can I Chew Gum or Suck On Candy?

The day before the test, you can suck on hard candy, like LifeSavers, as long as it is not red. Do not eat chocolate or any candy that has a soft center. You can chew gum up until you come in for your test. Do not swallow the gum.

Can I Have a Colonoscopy If I’m Having My Period?

Yes, having your period does not affect your test. If it’s more comfortable for you, you can wear a tampon on the day of your test. A tampon can be left in place during the test, but a pad would have to be removed.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to call the Lahey Hospital & Medical Center Endoscopy Department at 781-744-8690.

*The content on this website is for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. Please consult a physician regarding your specific medical condition, diagnosis and/or treatment.