Colonoscopy is the gold standard for detecting colon cancer in its early stages, yet about a third of older American adults don’t bother to get screened. Some of that reluctance is undoubtedly due to a little anxiety about what happens during a colonoscopy and what to expect after the procedure.
Michael Tarlowe, MD, wants every patient at his south Florida practice to understand not only why a colonoscopy is important, but also how safe and straightforward the procedure actually is. If you’re hesitant about scheduling your own colonoscopy, here’s what you need to know about this simple, but extremely important, outpatient procedure.
How colonoscopies work
Colonoscopies are outpatient procedures performed under sedation so you doze comfortably throughout the entire process. Dr. Tarlowe uses a long, flexible scope that’s equipped with a light and a camera to see inside your rectum and colon (your large intestine).
The camera captures images of the lining of the rectum and colon and sends the images to a special video monitor, allowing Dr. Tarlowe to look for any areas of abnormal tissue that could be a sign of cancer or other bowel problems, like inflammatory bowel disease.
If an area of abnormal tissue is discovered, he uses the scope to take a small sample of the tissue so it can be examined under a microscope. The scope can also be used to remove polyps, which are fleshy growths that can sometimes develop into cancer. These growths are also examined under a microscope after your colonoscopy is complete.
Preparing for your colonoscopy
Prior to having a colonoscopy, you need to undergo a brief at-home preparation that completely empties your bowels. This step is essential for making sure Dr. Tarlowe can evaluate the entire lining of your colon and rectum.
Prep involves drinking a liquid or taking supplements that cause frequent bowel movements. You’ll need to plan on staying home and close to your bathroom during the prep phase.
You’ll also need to follow specific dietary restrictions. Dr. Tarlowe will give you complete instructions at your visit, but in general, beginning at noon on the day before your colonoscopy, you’ll be restricted to clear liquids.
The colonoscopy procedure
Colonoscopies are performed on an outpatient basis, but because you’ll be sedated, you need to have someone with you who can drive you home. Most colonoscopies take about a half hour.
For the procedure, you’ll lie on your left side with your legs bent to make it easier to insert and manipulate the scope. At the beginning of the procedure, Dr. Tarlowe uses the scope to administer air into the colon, gently expanding it so it’s easier to see.
Next, he slowly advances the scope, capturing live images along the way and carefully examining the tissue lining the rectum and colon. If he sees polyps or other areas of abnormal tissue, he’ll use the scope to remove the tissue for further examination.
After your colonoscopy
Once your colonoscopy is complete, you’ll wait in a recovery area for about an hour to allow the sedative to wear off. You’ll feel bloated and may have some gas, two effects of the air that’s administered at the beginning of the procedure.
You’ll be able to eat right away after you leave our office, but because your bowel is completely empty, it’s a good idea to stick to a small meal at first. It’s also not uncommon to have some cramping and a little blood in your stool, especially if you’ve had tissue removed. These effects are temporary and resolve in a day or two.
Schedule a colonoscopy today
Having regular colonoscopies is critically important for avoiding colon cancer. Don’t let a little anxiety keep you from getting a simple screening that could save your life.
To learn more about colonoscopies or to find out how to schedule your own screening, call the practice or book an appointment online today.