How to Prepare for a Colonoscopy
Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States affecting both men and women. Every year, over 140,000 Americans are diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and more than 50,000 people die from it. However, it is one of the most preventable, treatable and beatable forms of cancer, especially when it is caught early.
A colonoscopy is a test to examine the inside of the colon. The test uses a colonoscope which is a flexible tube with lenses, a tiny camera and a light at the end. The colonoscope can scan the inside of the colon and transmit images to a video screen. The procedure can take up to 1 ½ hours to complete and is performed as an outpatient procedure.
Prepping for a colonoscopy is said to be more of a challenge than the actual test. Prepping requires that the colon is completely cleaned out of stool. A clean colon gives the doctor conducting the colonoscopy a clear view of the colon wall and allows then to perform a thorough examination. Before your exam your doctor will give you the steps for cleansing your colon at home.
These steps may include using enemas, not eating solid foods for 2 or 3 days before the exam and taking laxatives or liquid prep such as GoLytely to help clear the colon. You may also be asked to stop taking medications such as: aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen or other blood-thinning medicines. Make sure to tell your doctor if you think you will be unable to finish the prep; there may be an alternative type available.
Our recommended tips for getting through the colonoscopy prep-work:
- Eat lightly a few days before the exam and stay away from heavier meals and roughage.
- Buy a bag of your favorite hard candy or gum. Many people find that sucking on a piece of dissolvable hard candy or chewing gum will help with the taste of the liquid prep and prevent nausea. These items are permitted only when they will fully dissolve in your mouth and you will not be swallowing anything solid. This is because by the time the liquid gets to your stomach, it is essentially the same as juice or broth.
- Use a straw when drinking your preparation liquids. A straw can allow you to drink it more quickly and it helps with the taste.
- Some people prefer the prep to be very cold, so putting it in the freezer before you drink it may help.
- Grab a great book (or several). You will spend a lot of time in your bathroom, so a good book will help keep you distracted while you go.
- Keep plenty of clear liquids on hand to drink. Water gets boring and staying hydrated is important. Some people find that savory liquids (like chicken or vegetable broth) taste better.
- Call the doctor's office for help if you have any trouble or don't understand the prep instructions.
- Make sure you have baby wipes and/or soft toilet paper for cleaning.
- Use a zinc oxide ointment like Desitin to act as a barrier on the skin around the anus.
Early cancer detection can save your life. Schedule a colonoscopy at Ochsner.org/cancer-screenings