Understanding your procedure: What is a colonoscopy?
A colonoscopy is a procedure to examine your colon, or large bowel. It’s often done to screen for bowel cancer, or to diagnose changes in bowel patterns such as blood or pus in your bowel movements, bleeding from your anus, unexplained chronic diarrhoea or abdominal pain.
What to expect during a colonoscopy
Before the procedure, you’ll be given a sedative through a small tube that is inserted into a vein (intravenous cannula) so that you are relaxed and drowsy. Many people don’t remember the procedure or feel any pain.
A medical specialist, usually a gastroenterologist, then guides a colonoscope – a long thin flexible tube with a tiny camera on the end – through your anus into your lower bowel. Images from the camera are transmitted onto a screen so the doctor can look at the lining of your lower bowel.
If the doctor sees any polyps (small growths on the lining of the colon), they can usually remove them right then and there, which doesn’t usually hurt. The doctor may also take a biopsy – a tiny piece of the inside of your bowel – to look at under a microscope to see if there are any changes to your bowel tissue that may indicate disease.
The procedure generally takes 20-30 minutes, but you’ll usually need to wait around for a little while longer while the sedation medication wears off.
How to prepare for a colonoscopy
Before your colonoscopy, you’ll be given instructions for preparation to completely clear your bowel. It’s important to follow these carefully so that your doctor can get a clear view of the lining of your bowel. This will improve the accuracy of the test and reduce the risk of complications. If your bowel isn’t clear and the doctor can’t get a clear view, you may need to go through the process again.
Follow the specific instructions from your doctor before your colonoscopy. Here are some of the things you may have to do.
Before the procedure:
Tell your doctor about any medication you’re taking: Make sure to tell your doctor about any medicines and supplements you take, especially blood thinners (e.g. aspirin, warfarin) or iron tablets.
Arrange transport home: You won’t be able to drive for 24 hours after the test because of the effects of the sedative. It’s best to have someone accompany you home.
What to expect after a colonoscopy
It’s normal to feel a bit low on energy after your colonoscopy. Plan to take it easy afterward and take the rest of the day off work.
It can take about 24 hours for the sedative to wear off, so don’t drive, operate machinery, make any important legal decisions or drink alcohol for the rest of the day. You might experience some mild abdominal pain or cramping.
You might also pass gas or experience some bloating. These should go away within a day or two. If your doctor removes polyps or does a biopsy during your colonoscopy you might have some bleeding—usually there’s only a small amount and it’ll get better on its own, but contact your doctor if there’s a lot.
You’ll usually get the results of the test at a follow-up appointment with your doctor.
Warning signs to look out for after a colonoscopy
Serious complications are uncommon, but contact your doctor immediately if you experience any of the following after your colonoscopy:
Severe abdominal pain
A large amount of blood from your anus
A very bloated and firm abdomen
Fever (temperature over 38◦C).
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