What exactly happens during a colonoscopy?

After completing the required colon cleanse (also know as “bowel preparation”), you will be asked to present to a local endoscopy center. This is the location where your Gastroenterologist (doctor) will perform the colonoscopy. You will be required to have a trusted driver (family, adult child, or close friend) to transport you to and from the endoscopy center. Nursing staff will check you in, provide an identifier (wrist band), and ask you to change into a medical gown. A medical questionnaire will be completed by the RN and physician, respectively. A small IV will be started to be used for hydration and medications during the procedure. The GI doctor and anesthesiologist will each conduct an history and physical exam and allow you to ask questions before the colonoscopy.

When you are cleared for the procedure, the nurse will bring you into the exam room. A “time out” will be performed, wherein the doctor and nurses will confirm your name, date of birth, and procedure to be performed. Next, the anesthesiologist will administer medicines to drift you off to sleep. The GI doctor will then start the colonoscopy. The colonoscope is lubricated to prevent chaffing and irritation. The colonoscope is an advanced device that allows for detection and removal of polyps and many other lesions within the colon, without the need for surgery. A thorough exam of the anus, rectum, and colon will be performed. After reaching the cecum (or “beginning” of the colon), the gastroenterologist will remove the scope.

The anesthesiologist will allow you to wake up in the recovery area. Once you have met “discharge criteria,” typically documented with awake and alert mental status, acceptable vital signs, and minimal or no symptoms (bloating is most common), your transportation may take you home. Keep in mind each ambulatory surgery center (ASC) or hospital may have their own specific set of instructions. Your doctor or healthcare provider is a great resource and will go into further detail to ensure you’re prepared for a successful colonoscopy!

Photo by Peter Steiner.

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