Don’t let fear of prep scare you from getting lifesaving colonoscopy

By Peter F. Klein, MD, FACS, FASCRS, ProMedica Physicians Colorectal Surgery

        A colonoscopy is the most effective screening method for colorectal cancer. If you have heard of a colonoscopy, you have probably heard about the dreaded preparation process. After hearing stories from friends or family, you might feel hesitant to schedule your own colonoscopy procedure. Knowing what to expect when preparing for a colonoscopy may help to calm those nerves and make you realize it’s not so bad after all.
        A colonoscopy screens the entire colon in an attempt to identify any cancer before symptoms present themselves. Colon cancer typically starts as a benign (harmless) growth, called a polyp. Colorectal cancer can be prevented by removing polyps early on during a colonoscopy, before they develop into cancer.
        During a colonoscopy, a long, flexible tube is inserted into the rectum. The tube has a tiny video camera that allows the doctor to exam the colon for any abnormalities. But, in order for the doctor to be able to get a good look inside the colon, some preparation is required beforehand to ensure there is a clear, unobstructed view.
        The day before a colonoscopy, you will be asked to eat a clear liquid diet. This helps to ensure there are no food particles in the colon and that the colon can be seen clearly. A clear liquid diet includes things like plain water, sports drinks, clear broth or clear gelatin. It is important that all food are clear so that food dyes, like red, are not mistaken for blood. If you do not follow a clear liquid diet, you may not receive accurate test results and could be asked to reschedule the procedure.
        Along with the clear liquid diet, a laxative called bowel prep is prescribed. Bowel prep helps to purge your bowels and clean out the colon as much as possible. Usually, bowel prep starts in the late afternoon or early evening. Sometimes the prep can cause bowel movements to begin very quicky, but in other instances, it can take time to kick in.
        Regardless of how speedy the bowel prep takes effect, do not plan on any activities once you have started. You can expect to have frequent, loose bowel movements that will help to empty the colon. Different types of bowel prep kits are offered, but the results are always the same. Be sure to follow the instructions carefully. To help with the process, try eating a little lighter for a few days beforehand. Be sure to allow yourself plenty of time for the entirety of the bowel prep process – and be patient.
        The preparation process can be an inconvenience, but there is minimal discomfort and serious side effects are uncommon. Colonoscopy preparation is intended to help your procedure be as smooth and accurate as possible.
        Colorectal cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in the United States, but it can be found and treated with great success. Don’t let the preparation leading up to a colonoscopy scare you away from getting a lifesaving screening.


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