I’m supposed to get a colonoscopy, what are my next steps?

March 07, 2018 | by S. Dharan Kumar, MD

We know what’s going through your mind. Your doctor wants you to get a colonoscopy and you know you have put it off long enough. Screening for colon cancer is something we all need to do at some point, so we can stay healthy and detect colon cancer early.

There is less to dread about a colonoscopy than you think. There are steps you can take to make your procedure more comfortable.

One of the hardest parts is getting over your fear and scheduling your actual appointment.

Not sure where to start? Here’s a step-by-step guide:

  1. Work with your primary care physician (PCP) to identify a gastroenterologist. A gastroenterologist is a physician with dedicated training and unique experience in the management of diseases in the gastrointestinal tract and liver. Gastroenterologists receive special training in colonoscopies and perform more of these procedures than any other specialty.

  2. Contact your insurance company so you understand what your insurance will pay. You’ll want to make sure you review your health insurance plan’s specific benefits, including if your doctor is on your insurance company’s list of “in-network” providers. If the doctor is not in your network, you may have to pay more out-of-pocket.

  3. Schedule your appointment for the procedure. If your doctor has availability, consider scheduling your colonoscopy appointment on a Monday morning so you can use Sunday as your day for rest, relaxation and prepping for the procedure. Trust us, you’ll want to stay close to home and near your throne. If you work, you typically only need to take the day of the colonoscopy off from work. Most people can work the day before and go back to work the day after the procedure.

  4. Plan ahead by making your pre-colonoscopy shopping list. A few days before the procedure, you’ll need to start eating a low-fiber diet that includes no whole grains, nuts, popcorn, seeds, dried fruit or raw fruits and vegetables. The day before the procedure, you can have a light breakfast (eggs and toast) and the rest of the day only have clear liquids. Add these things to your shopping list: clear liquids like clear broth or bouillon, black coffee or tea, clear juice (apple, white grape) or clear soft drinks, Jell-O and popsicles. Avoid red liquids as much as possible.

  5. Ask a family member or friend to take you and drive you home from the procedure. Because you’ll be sedated for the procedure, you won’t be able to drive for the rest of the day. Even if you feel fine, it is impossible to tell whether your reflexes have been impaired.

  6. Read all of the instructions your GI physician sent you prior to the procedure. Reread all of the instructions again — you don’t want to do this twice if you don’t need to. Before your colonoscopy, you’ll need to empty your colon. Anything left in your colon may block the view of your colon and rectum during the exam. Your physician’s instructions will tell you exactly what you need to do and when. If the instructions are not clear, call your physician’s office and ask for them to explain it to you.

  7. Prep for the colonoscopy. Most people consider the prep the worst part of the procedure. Your doctor will have you take a laxative and follow a clear liquid diet. You probably won’t enjoy the taste of the drink, but there are some things you can do to get it down:

    • Mix it with something flavored, like a sports drink or powdered mix
    • Keep it well chilled
    • Drink it through a straw placed far back on your tongue
    • Follow it up with a sip of something that tastes good
    • Suck on a lemon slice or piece of hard candy after drinking

    Make sure you are prepared — grab an iPad, a good book or magazine and ride out the prep in the bathroom.

  8. Have the colonoscopy. During your colonoscopy, the doctor will use a thin, flexible, semi-hollow, lighted tube that has a tiny video camera on the end, called a colonoscope. The colonoscope will be eased inside your colon and will send live images to a video screen in the room. You’ll probably be sedated during the procedure, so you won’t feel much other than some bloating. Your doctor will be looking for polyps, which is a precancerous growth in the colon that could lead to cancer. So, if polyps are found, they will be removed during the colonoscopy and sent to a laboratory for analysis. The entire exam will take around 30 minutes to an hour.

  9. Return to your normal activities. As soon as you have the procedure, most people can eat and drink. You may feel a little bit drowsy or have a mild rumble in your stomach for a few hours after you have the procedure, but the feeling will go away.

After the procedure ends, your doctor will go over the results with you. If no polyps were found, you’ll likely be off the hook for a colonoscopy for another 10 years, depending on your family history.

Though the prep isn’t pleasant, it doesn’t last long. Don’t let your fear or the stories you’ve heard delay you from detecting pre-cancerous changes in the colon early, when it is most treatable.

What is stopping you from getting a colonoscopy? Tell us in the below comments.

Are you at risk for colon cancer? Take our online ColonAware assessment.

Related blogs:

How to make a colonoscopy more comfortable

Fecal matters: An at-home alternative to a colonoscopy

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