Colonoscopy allows a physician to examine the large intestine for polyps, cancer, inflammation, and other conditions. The procedure itself takes about 20 to 60 minutes, with the entire outpatient visit typically lasting about 3 hours. Since most colon cancers start out as polyps, a colonoscopy is an effective way to prevent cancer.

Before the colonoscopy begins, you are given a light sedative and a narcotic medication through an IV in the hand or arm.  This type of sedation is called conscious sedation — this is not general anesthesia, but the goal is to assure that you are comfortable during the procedure. People often do not recall details of the procedure.  In special circumstances (depending on your past medical history), deeper anesthesia administered by an anesthesiologist is required. This determination is made at the time your procedure is scheduled, and special arrangements have to be made in advance.

The colonoscope, a long flexible tube with a tiny video camera at the tip, is inserted into the rectum and directed through the large intestine. During the procedure, the physician is able to view the entire length of the large intestine. If any polyps (abnormal growths) are discovered, the doctor will usually remove them at the time of colonoscopy. Conditions such as crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, colon cancer, and diverticulosis can be diagnosed. Patients do not feel gastrointestinal biopsies or the removal of polyps.

After a colonoscopy, patients rest for an average of 30 minutes in the recovery area. They will need a ride home and can resume regular activities the following day.

For a colonoscopy to be effective, the lining of the colon must be completely clean. It is imperative that the prep instructions be followed exactly as recommended. The day before the procedure, one stays on a strict clear liquid diet. Typically, the evening before the procedure, you drink half the dose of a laxative and adhere to the clear liquid diet; the day of the procedure you take the second half of the laxative dose. Please click on the instructions tab on the right side of the page. There are two commonly used prep solutions – one is MiraLAX and Gatorade based, the other one is Nulytely based. When your procedure is scheduled, you will be informed of the appropriate prep solution for you. This is determined by your health and medication history.

Although quite rare, most complications are related to sedation administration (cardiac and respiratory problems); the colon may also become partially torn (perforated) and this may require surgery. Rarely, bleeding from polyp removal or from the procedure itself may require additional treatment such as hospitalization and/or blood transfusions.