How to make a colonoscopy more comfortable

March 01, 2022 | by Matthew Siegel, MD

We get it — just hearing the word “colonoscopy” gives you the jitters. Your tummy may tumble thinking about the procedure, but this lifesaving measure is worth any brief discomfort it may bring.

A colonoscopy is part of the screening process for colorectal cancer, a typically slow-growing cancer that may not present symptoms until it’s progressed to a later stage.

During a colonoscopy, an internal examination of your colon (large intestine) and rectum is done using a colonoscope. The colonoscope has a small camera attached to a flexible tube that examines and takes pictures of the inside of your colon.

By examining your colon, your doctor can look for ulcers, polyps, tumors or areas of inflammation. If precancerous polyps are found, they can often be removed early before having a chance to spread.

When it comes to preventing and detecting colon cancer, no screening option is more effective than a colonoscopy. The advancements in technology have also made this procedure more comfortable. Preparing for a colonoscopy is often the most difficult part. 

Here are some tips to ease those colonoscopy jitters:

  • Schedule your colonoscopy on a Monday and take the day off of work. Use Sunday as your day for rest, relaxation and most importantly, prepping for the procedure.
  • Your doctor knows best — follow his/her guidelines. As part of the prep, your doctor may advise you to drink clear liquids, including water, broths, soft drinks, tea and coffee (with no milk or creamer). This is a great excuse to feel like you are a kid again and eat Jell-O, popsicles or Italian ice. Avoid red, blue or purple coloring. Do yourself a favor and limit heavy foods a few days before, like meat. Your colonoscopy prep will work more quickly and be more effective if you follow your doctor’s list of do’s and don’ts.
  • Drink lots of water. Your doctor will likely prescribe solutions you need to drink over a specific time period and laxatives you need to take. All of this prep is necessary to make your procedure effective.
  • Make yourself comfortable and get the food you need ahead of time. Make this time a relaxing Netflix day around the house in your favorite pajamas. Stay near the bathroom when you are prepping to avoid any awkward or uncomfortable moments. As they say, there is no place like home.
  • On the day of the procedure, try to relax as much as possible. Most people are asleep and sedated during the procedure, so you won’t feel anything. Having a close friend or family member there for support and encouragement can help ease your fears, and you’ll need someone to drive you home after being sedated. Ask your doctor any questions you have so you feel more comfortable.
  • After your procedure, your doctor will often let you know immediately the results of your test. Most people feel normal after the procedure, but if you are concerned, eat lightly for a few hours.

Next thing you know, you’ve conquered a colonoscopy. Take care of your body and your health — a few uncomfortable hours is worth it to help you continue to live a happy and healthy life. 

Not sure where to start? Check out our step-by-step guide for getting a colonoscopy.

Learn what to expect before, during and after the procedure.

Are you at risk for colon cancer? Take the ColonAware Risk Assessment to find out.

March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month. Did you know that colorectal cancer is the second leading cancer killer in the United States and, if found early, 90% of patients are cancer-free five years later? Join us for a Webinar: Knock out colon cancer at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, March 23, as Dr. Karen Ma, gastroenterologist with Elmhurst Clinic and on staff at Elmhurst Hospital, discusses the facts about colon cancer risks, symptoms and screening options. Register now.

Matthew Siegel, M.D. is a medical oncologist with Edward-Elmhurst Health.

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