How to Survive Your First Colonoscopy
A colonoscopy is an important medical screening that saves lives by stopping cancer before it can start. But it’s also one of the most dreaded screenings.
The worry and build-up to a colonoscopy are much worse than the procedure itself, which is quick and painless. The colonoscope, which is used to perform the procedure, is much smaller than you’d think, measuring about ½ inch in diameter. In other words, smaller than the average stool. The most discomfort may come from fear or embarrassment about the procedure!
When you consider the benefit of a colonoscopy, it’s worth all of it. And knowing how to prepare can make it easier.
Here are some tips on how to get through your first colonoscopy.
Know what to expect
Knowing what to expect from a colonoscopy can make you feel more comfortable about the procedure. Talk to your doctor about your risk of colon cancer, when to schedule a colonoscopy, and what to expect the day before and during the procedure. Don’t be embarrassed to ask questions; your doctor has heard it all.
Once it’s scheduled, it can help to talk to a friend or family member about their experience with a colonoscopy. Many people also turn to the internet for information. Just ensure you’re reading trusted websites, like your healthcare provider’s, government health sites, or universities.
Prep, and prep well
Your doctor will give you special instructions about what types of food to avoid the day before your colonoscopy and how to clear out your bowels the night before. You’ll need to drink a liquid laxative on a schedule to completely empty your bowel.
The results should be exactly what you’d expect from drinking a large amount of laxatives. You’ll need to use the restroom frequently and urgently. As unpleasant as that may sound, it isn’t painful and it’s absolutely necessary for a successful colonoscopy. Your bowel needs to be clean before the procedure, so the walls of your intestine are visible. A clean bowel is empty and pink, allowing your gastroenterologist to examine the lining of your colon for polyps. Polyps can be flat or grow on a stalk. A properly prepared bowel makes even the flat polyps visible.
You may be tempted to stop drinking the laxative, but that might leave your bowel only partially empty and clean. And that could lead to having to schedule a second colonoscopy.
Drink plenty of fluids
You may think that drinking the bowel prep liquid gives you all the fluid you need that day, but the opposite is true. Bowel prep is actually dehydrating. As contradictory as that sounds, the bowel prep is meant to pull water into your bowel to clean it out. That means the rest of your body isn’t getting all that fluid. Drink plenty of water the days before you begin preparing for your colonoscopy and during prep, if you can. You’ll feel better if you’re not dehydrated.
If you dislike the taste of the liquid laxative, you can usually mix it (or chase it) with a sports drink or sugar-free drink like Crystal Light. Your doctor will tell you what types of beverages are acceptable. They can’t be red, purple, or orange, as those colors stain the lining of the colon.
Most of all, remind yourself that you’ll get through it. Pat yourself on the back when it’s over. You may have just saved your own life!
For many people, the idea of having a colonoscopy is uncomfortable, but colon cancer is much worse than the procedure or the preparation.
Colorectal cancer is a serious business. It’s the third most diagnosed and second deadliest cancer in the U.S. but it doesn’t have to be. You can stop it before it begins with a colonoscopy, starting at age 45.
Don’t delay – schedule your colonoscopy appointment today!