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What is a colonoscopy and when is it required?

By | John Preston

Colonoscopy is a medical test that allows you to see the inside of the rectum and colon. This scan is required when the doctor is looking for the presence of swollen tissues, polyps, ulcers, or cancer.

Doctors recommend starting at age 45 to perform a colonoscopy to detect diseases that usually do not show any type of sign until the disease is very advanced.

What is colonoscopy used for?

Colonoscopy can be used to:

  • Evaluate symptoms of intestinal problems: with this exam, the doctor seeks to explore the causes of rectal bleeding, chronic diarrhea, constant abdominal pain, and other intestinal conditions.
  • Screening: A colonoscopy is done to detect colon cancer. The doctor can recommend it from the age of 40 and when it is considered that there are risk factors.
  • Treatment of a disease: it is applied when it is required to extract an object or sample from the colon. Likewise, it can be used when the doctor requires placing a stent.
  • Look for polyps: Your doctor may recommend a colonoscopy to look for polyps and remove them if necessary. This helps reduce the risk of colon cancer.

How is a colonoscopy done?

Colonoscopy is a medical test that allows you to see the inside of the rectum and colon. This scan is required when the doctor is looking for the presence of swollen tissues, polyps, ulcers, or cancer. 

Doctors recommend starting at age 45 to have a colonoscopy to detect diseases that usually do not show any type of sign until the disease is very advanced.

This exam is performed in an intervention room within the doctor’s office, it is an outpatient procedure. The doctor will ask the patient to remove their clothing and put on a gown to perform the colonoscopy.

Before beginning the examination, the specialist doctor will give the patient intravenous medication to help him relax. This way you will not feel any pain during the exam. The person may remain conscious during the exam and be able to communicate with the doctor, in other cases they may not remember what happened.

The doctor will ask you to lie on your left side and bring your knees bent and close to your chest. The colonoscope is gently inserted into the patient through the anus and carefully moved into the intestine. Usually the doctor will scan down to the small intestine.

If the colonoscope finds it difficult to pass through some areas, the doctor can use the suction of this tool to remove both the liquid and the feces. This will give you a clearer view of the intestine as it removes waste from the body.

Finally, the doctor will extract samples of the tissue or polyps with the colonoscope if considered necessary. During the exam, you will take pictures of different areas and may even undergo laser therapy if necessary.

Does a colonoscopy hurt?

The doctor before performing the colonoscopy applies local anesthesia to the patient so that he does not feel pain. In many cases anesthesia can cause sleepiness.

When the colonoscope is inserted, the patient may feel momentary cramping and some discomfort as the device advances due to the introduction of air to see inside the body.

Preparation before the exam

The patient must completely empty the intestine before the colonoscopy is performed. If the intestine is not adequately clean, it makes it difficult to see. For this reason, the gastroenterologist, before carrying out the test, will indicate step by step how the intestine should be cleaned. You can recommend:

  • Use enemas.
  • Take laxatives.
  • Eliminate solid foods for 1 to 3 days before the test.

Similarly, for 1-3 days the patient should consume clear foods such as water, gelatin, strained natural juices, fat-free broth, clear coffee or tea.

The doctor may also recommend stopping some medications for several days before the exam to avoid complications with anesthesia.

Colonoscopy Risks

There are few risks when performing a colonoscopy, however, some of them are:

  • Bleeding where a polyp, sample, or abnormal tissue was removed.
  • A tear in the wall of the rectum or colon that requires surgery.
  • Reaction to the sedative used in the exam.
  • Infection requiring the use of antibiotics.

What happens after the exam?

After the colonoscopy the patient will need 1 hour to recover from the anesthesia. Although it is an outpatient procedure, it is recommended that you have a person take you home, since the effect of anesthesia can take up to a full day to wear off.

The person may feel bloated or pass more gas than usual for a few hours. Walking can help with discomfort. Also, you may notice a small amount of blood in your first bowel movement after the test.

If the bleeding continues after the first bowel movement, it is important to speak with a gastroenterologist to attend a check-up.

Colonoscopy Results

After the doctor performs the exam, he will tell the person in a short time what the results obtained are and will explain what follows.

Negative result

If the colonoscopy comes out negative, it means that the specialist has not found any abnormality during the study. Therefore, it is recommended to perform the exam again in a period of approximately 7-10 years. Everything will depend on the risk factors that the patient presents, if benign polyps were found or if they were removed.

Also, the doctor may recommend repeating the exam if there was residual stool that makes it difficult to perform a complete exam. The doctor may recommend a different preparation, in such a way that it helps the patient to have as empty a stomach as possible for the next colonoscopy.

Positive result

The doctor may indicate a positive colonoscopy result when abnormal tissue is found in the colon or a polyp appears.

Polyps are usually not cancerous. The doctor can remove them during a colonoscopy and send them to the laboratory for analysis and an accurate diagnosis. Even if the polyps are not cancerous, the doctor may recommend tests to monitor their progress in the future.

The patient will be recommended to undergo a colonoscopy before the age of 7 if they have more than two polyps, if a polyp larger than 1 centimeter appears, or if the polyps have characteristics of greater cellular risk of cancer.

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