What to Expect During and After Your First Colonoscopy

Turning 45? Then it’s time for cake, presents — and your first colorectal cancer screening.That’s right — the American Cancer Society recommends screening beginning at age 45 for most people. And for many men and women, that means having their first colonoscopy.

While there are different methods for colorectal cancer screening, colonoscopy is considered the “gold standard” for two primary reasons: First, it provides a visual assessment of your entire colon. And second, if you do have polyps, they can be removed during your exam, then evaluated in a lab. 

Michael H Tarlowe, MD, PC, helps patients maintain optimal health as they age with state-of-the-art colonoscopies using the most advanced technology available. With locations in New York City and White Plains, New York, Dr. Tarlowe makes it easy to get screened, so you can enjoy greater peace of mind about your own health. 

What happens during a colonoscopy

You might be anxious about your first colonoscopy, but considering the entire procedure typically takes an hour or less, there’s a good chance you’re spending a lot more time worrying than you’d spend getting screened. 

Colonoscopy is performed as an outpatient procedure. After you’ve changed into a gown, you’ll lie on your side on a padded exam table. You’ll be given a sedative through an IV in your arm. For most people, that’s all they remember — the sedative lets them drift into a light sleep. 

While you relax, Dr. Tarlowe inserts a flexible scope into your anus and advances it to the end of your colon. The colon is equipped with a small camera that sends real-time video images to a video screen. 

Once the scope is inserted, Dr. Tarlowe administers a small amount of carbon dioxide gas into your colon to gently expand it, making it easier for the camera to “see” your colon and rectum. 

As he moves the scope through your colon, he looks for fleshy growths called polyps. If he sees a polyp, he removes it so it can be analyzed in a lab. He also takes note of any other unusual areas, like internal hemorrhoids or areas of inflammation. After the exam, the scope is removed, and you’re moved to a recovery area for about an hour while the sedative wears off.

How you’ll feel afterward

Colonoscopy isn’t painful, and the only real aftereffect is the sleepiness you’ll feel from the sedation. You definitely need to have someone drive you home after your colonoscopy, and you should plan to take the day off so you can rest and nap. 

You also may feel a little bloated. That’s because of the carbon dioxide gas used to inflate your colon. During the first few hours after your colonoscopy, you pass the gas, and the bloating goes away.

For most people, the only other “side effect” is hunger from the fasting they’ve done. Even though you might feel like indulging in a big meal, don’t. Eating too much right away can wind up irritating your stomach and your bowels. 

Instead, stick with liquids for the first few hours, followed by soft foods that are easy to digest. Drinking plenty of fluids is important for hydration, and it also helps your bowel readjust and get back to work.

The prep beforehand

For most people, prep is the most dreaded part of a colonoscopy. The idea of taking a lot of laxatives and spending a fair amount of time on the toilet certainly isn’t appealing. 

But for a colonoscopy to be successful, Dr. Tarlowe needs to be able to see your entire colon and rectum, including the lining. Any type of digested food or fecal matter can block that view. The goal of prep is to completely clear your colon so Dr. Tarlowe’s view is unobstructed. 

Today, there are different types of prep routines, and Dr. Tarlowe will decide which option is the best one for you. Preparing for a colonoscopy does involve taking a laxative, either in pill form or as a liquid, several hours or the evening prior to your appointment. 

These are powerful laxatives, and you’ll need to use the toilet frequently while your bowel clears itself. You’ll also have dietary restrictions on the day of your colonoscopy, and probably the day before, as well. Dr. Tarlowe provides you with specific instructions based on the prep routine he’s selected for you.

Don’t put off your colonoscopy

Bottom line: Having a colonoscopy may not be super fun, but it is a critically important part of staying healthy, especially as you get older. Every day you delay having your colorectal cancer screening is another day for cancer cells to grow. 

Scheduling a colonoscopy early — ideally, as soon as you’re eligible — means polyps and potential cancer can be caught early, when treatment is most effective. And remember — most people only need a colonoscopy once every 10 years. A little time invested once each decade can yield big health benefits for the rest of your life.

Having a colonoscopy is an important way to play a more proactive role in managing your health. To schedule your colorectal cancer screening, contact one of our offices in New York City or White Plains, New York, or request an appointment online.

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