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A colonoscopy is the visual exam of the rectum and colon (large intestine). The exam is done with a tool called a colonoscope. The colonoscope is a flexible tube with a tiny camera on the end. This instrument allows the doctor to view the inside of your rectum and colon.
It is used to examine, diagnose, and treat problems in your large intestine. The procedure is most often done for the following reasons:
Complications are rare, but no procedure is completely free of risk. If you are planning to have a colonoscopy, your doctor will review a list of possible complications, which may include:
Factors that may increase the risk of complications include:
Be sure to discuss these risks with your doctor before the procedure.
Your doctor will likely do the following:
Your colon must be completely clean before the procedure. Any stool left in the intestine will block the view. This preparation may start several days before the procedure. Follow your doctor's instructions, which may include any of the following cleansing methods:
Leading up to your procedure:
Your doctor may sedate you to decrease discomfort.
You will lie on your left side with knees bent and drawn up toward your chest. The colonoscope will be slowly inserted through the rectum and into the bowel. The colonoscope will inject air into the colon. A small attached video camera will allow the doctor to view the colon's lining on a screen. The doctor will continue guiding the tool through the bowel and assess the lining.
A tissue sample or polyps may be removed during the procedure.
Less than one hour
Most people report some discomfort when the instrument is inserted. You may feel cramping, muscle spasms, or lower abdominal pain during the procedure. You may also feel the urge to move your bowels. Tell the doctor if you feel any severe pain.
After the procedure, gas pains and cramping are common. These pains should go away with the passing of gas.
If any tissue was removed:
When you return home after the procedure, be sure to follow your doctor's instructions , which may include:
After arriving home, contact your doctor if any of the following occurs:
American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy
National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse
Public Health Agency of Canada
Radiology for Patients
American Gastroenterological Association website. Available at: http://www.gastro.org/ . Accessed October 14, 2005.
Colonoscopy. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse website. Available at: http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/colonoscopy/ . Updated November 2008. Accessed September 23, 2009.
Medical encyclopedia: colonoscopy. National Library of Medicine, Medline Plus website. Available at: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003886.htm . Updated March 2008. Accessed September 23, 2009.
Last reviewed October 2009 by Daus Mahnke, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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