A colonoscopy is an effective test used in diagnosing inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and other digestive disorders. A gastroenterologist (a specialist in digestive disease) or a colorectal surgeon should perform the test. A long, flexible tube with a light and a camera on the end is inserted into the anus, and guided through the large intestine.
In the days before having a colonoscopy, a patient must clean their colon of all waste materials. Doctors may prescribe different techniques for different patients. For example, a patient with severe diarrhea may not need as much prep as a person with a healthier bowel. Common methods include drinking a solution to stimulate the bowel, laxatives, and enemas. By following the doctors' instructions correctly, the large intestine will be clean and free of waste so problems can be more easily seen and diagnosed.
Patients are sedated during the procedure (this is an important point to discuss beforehand with the doctor performing the test) through an IV. The doctor may also use a heart monitor, oxygen, and other monitoring equipment to ensure the safety and comfort of the patient. The entire procedure commonly takes about 30 minutes. The doctor may take some biopsies, a small sample of tissue that will be sent to a pathologist for testing to ensure an accurate diagnosis.
After the colonoscopy, patients are monitored for another period of time to reverse the sedation and make sure no complications have occurred. Because the colonoscope introduces air into the colon, there will be some bloating that will be relieved by passing gas. Patients should arrange to have someone drive them home from the procedure, as they will be quite groggy. This person can also remember any further instructions given by the medical staff.
A few days after the procedure, patients will meet again with the doctor to discuss the findings. The results of the biopsies will be available at this time.
No, having a colonoscopy is not what anyone would consider "fun." It is, however, a useful diagnostic test. Without it, those of us with digestive problems might never get an accurate diagnosis or effective treatment.
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. "Colonoscopy." National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. Nov 2005. 13 Sept 2008.
AGA Patient Center. "Preparing for a Colonoscopy." American Gastroenterological Association. Apr 2008. 30 Jul 2010.