What is a Colonoscopy?
A Colonoscopy allows your doctor to visually examine the lining of your large intestine from the inside. This medical procedure is done to check for all large bowel diseases and helps make a diagnosis of cancer, inflammatory bowel diseases and other conditions. A screening colonoscopy is performed to test for colon cancer and to check for pre-cancerous polyps, which can be removed at the same time.
Your doctor uses a long, flexible tube called a colonoscope. This device, about as thick around as a finger, has a video camera on its tip and sends images to a video monitor, where your doctor can observe its path from your rectum to the caecum which is where your small bowel meets your large bowel.
Why You May Need a Colonoscopy?
According to the National Cancer Institute of Canada (NCIC) Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer and the second most common cause of death from cancer for both Canadian men and women.
Colorectal cancer is a highly treatable cancer if it is detected early and it is up to 90 per cent preventable with timely and thorough testing. Most colon cancers start out as polyps and therefore removing polyps can prevent colon cancer.
Colonoscopy is a screening test to catch cancer early, while it is still treatable. Often, a colon cancer does not produce symptoms until it is fairly large.
The procedure also can be used to evaluate the cause of such symptoms as rectal bleeding, chronic diarrhea and chronic constipation.
Your doctor will provide you with clear preparation instructions to explain the dietary restrictions and the cleansing solution routine you need to follow before your procedure. Your colon must be completely clean so that your colonoscopy results can be accurate as possible. See the preparation instructions for more details and follow them thoroughly.
Inform your doctor of any medications you’re currently taking — particularly anticoagulants (such as pradax and warfarin), aspirin products, arthritis medications, insulin, iron supplements or clopidogrel.
Also let your doctor know about any allergies you may have.
You should continue to take your medications as usual unless the doctor specifically instructs you not to. Some medicines can interfere with your preparation or with the examination. Please refer to the medication instructions for more specific directions.
Usually your doctor will give you a sedative to calm and relax you during the procedure. Colonoscopy rarely causes much pain and the sedation will help you better tolerate any discomfort, such as pressure, bloating or cramping.
You will be asked to lie on your side or your back while the doctor slowly inserts the colonoscope into your rectum and advances it along your large intestine to examine its lining. While video from the device displays on a monitor in real time, the doctor controls its movements controlling where it should go, and what should be examined by using the controls on the handle. The lining of your colon is examined again as the device is withdrawn. If there is any fecal residue your bowel will be washed with distilled water for better visualization.
The colonoscopy takes approximately 30 minutes and requires between 30 – 60 minutes for recovery. Please arrange to have your relative or friend drive you 60 – 90 minutes after you arrival time at the clinic.
Even if your doctor does not find anything in the lining of your colon the results are valuable. These results will be used as a baseline for future tests.
If you’re over 50 years of age with no history of colon cancer, you should still have a colonoscopy every ten years.
If your doctor does find an area that needs further interpretation, a biopsy (a small tissue sample) can be retrieved by passing instruments through the colonoscope. The biopsy is then sent for analysis. Biopsies can help identify many conditions; the doctor may take one even if cancer is not suspected.
The doctor specifically looks for polyps during your colonoscopy. Polyps are abnormal growths in the colon lining that vary in size from a tiny dot to several inches. They usually are non-cancerous, but the doctor will remove or destroy them during the procedure and send them to the laboratory for analysis.
The doctor removes polyps with the biopsy instruments or with wire loops called snares. Using a technique called “snare polypectomy,” a wire loop is passed through the colonoscope circling the polyp at its base. The polyp is then removed from your intestinal wall with an electrical current. You will not feel any pain during this process.
Because cancer begins in polyps, removing them is a first step toward preventing colon cancer.
Recovering from a Colonoscopy
You may experience some mild cramping or bloating after the procedure due to the air pumped into your colon during the examination. Please note that these symptoms should pass quickly (usually within 24 hours).
After the procedure you may eat and drink without any restrictions, unless otherwise informed by your doctor.
If you receive a sedative you will be held for observation in the recovery room until the sedative wears off. You should be accompanied by a friend or relative to drive or assist you home. These medications help ease the pain and discomfort of the procedure. However, these sedatives can cause drowsiness and can affect your reflexes.
It is important to keep your bowel movements soft post polypectomy as hard bowel movements can cause bleeding.
Before you leave, the results of the examination will be explained to you. However, there may be a wait time for results of any biopsies and you may be required to come in for a follow-up visit.
Colonoscopy and polypectomy are generally safe procedures when performed by trained and experienced gastroenterologists like the team at West GTA Endoscopy clinic. Complications are rare, but the most severe is a perforation of your colon lining. This may require surgery to repair.
Other complications include minor bleeding from the site of a biopsy or polypectomy. The bleeding often stops on its own, but the doctor can control it through the colonoscope during the procedure.
On rare occasions bleeding can be serious and cause dizziness and light headedness. Should this happen, an inside blood vessel may be bleeding and may need clipping or cauterizing preferably in the hospital.
You may have a reaction to the sedatives, which is why it is important to discuss your medication allergies. If you have heart or lung disease, these conditions can cause complications.
Symptoms from complications include severe abdominal pain, fever, chills or rectal bleeding although minor bleeding may last up to 10 days after the procedure without being dangerous. While these complications are uncommon, you should contact the clinic immediately if you experience them.
Important Reminder: This information is only intended to provide guidance, not definitive medical advice. Please consult a doctor about your specific condition. Only trained and experienced physicians like the team at West GTA Endoscopy can determine an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment.