What to expect with your first colonoscopy

What to expect with your first colonoscopy

Colonoscopy.  The dreaded colonoscopy.  A test that, before its development, was only mentioned when speaking of being abducted by aliens.  So, you may be asking yourself, “Why in the heck would I want have something like that done?” Well, in short, it could save your life.

Colon cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths in the United States. It is estimated that every year there are 60 new cases of colon cancer per 100,000 people in the state of West Virginia alone. Simply put, colon cancer is common and deadly if left undetected. Moreover, the earlier colon cancer is detected, the better the chance of survival.

A colonoscopy is a screening test that cannot only detect potential polyps that could turn into cancer but also remove the polyps and prevent a potential cancer from ever forming. That is why I am so passionate about screening colonoscopies, and I hope that this short article will ease your mind about this life-saving test.

When to screen

Although the date in which to begin screening for colon cancer is up for debate, for now you should begin at the age of 50 and repeat every 10 years. However, if you have a family history of colon cancer, the age and frequency may differ. You should ask your health care professional when and how often you should have your screening for colon cancer.

There are also other means of screening for colon cancer that are non-invasive (i.e. Cologuard), but colonoscopy remains the gold standard. Furthermore, if a Cologuard test is positive, it will be recommended that you have a colonoscopy. 

What to expect

So, you’ve decided to proceed. What should you expect? Well, probably the most dreaded part of the test is also the most important. The colon prep.

There are many colon preparations available with varying volumes to drink. However, it is very important that you follow the directions closely, so you are adequately “cleaned out.”

The day prior to the test you will be asked to follow a clear liquid diet. This includes things like water, sports drinks, broth, etc.  You will also begin drinking your colon preparation. Every institution is different when it comes to the diet and timing of when to drink the colon preparation. So again, it is very important to follow the diet and prep instructions.

The day of the test you will arrive at the endoscopy center at your given time. A colonoscopy is sometimes done in the hospital or at an ambulatory surgery center. Once you are checked in and appropriately draped, an IV will be placed to use for fluids and sedation. The type of sedation used depends on the institution.

You will then be seen by your doctor and, in certain institutions, an anesthesia professional as well. You will then be taken back to a procedure room where you will have your procedure done. They will hook you up to some monitors to evaluate your heart rate, blood pressure and oxygen saturation. You will then be given the anesthetic and be sedated for the remainder of the procedure.

It will take your doctor about 20 to 30 minutes to evaluate your colon. You will then be taken from the procedure room to the recovery room where it will take around 30 minutes before you are ready to go home. You will need someone to come to the hospital with you to drive you home and you will not be able to drive for 24 hours after the procedure.

Because air is put in your colon, it is common to have some abdominal cramping after the test, and it is important to let the air pass out of your colon.  After the test, your diet may vary if polyps were taken out, but in general, you will be able to eat whatever you want.

A colonoscopy is a safe test that helps prevent colon cancer. Please contact your health care professional about how and when to get scheduled for this life-saving procedure. If you don’t have a primary care provider, please contact Marshall Family Medicine at 304-691-1100 or Marshall Internal Medicine at 304-691-1000.


L. Eric Carter, DO

Dr. Carter is a board-certified gastroenterologist at Marshall Health and an assistant professor at Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine.