Colonoscopy is a way to inspect the large intestine, which includes the colon and rectum. In some cases, the scope may be inserted into the end of the small intestine (terminal ileum). A Northwest Gastroenterology provider may recommend colonoscopy for patients with gastrointestinal bleeding, diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, iron-deficiency anemia, unintentional weight loss, or other lower intestinal symptoms. In addition, colonoscopy is used to screen people over 50 years old for colon cancer (see Express Colonoscopy Registration/Overview ).

What to Expect

Prior to the procedure, the patient is attached to monitors so the physician and nurse can observe heart rate, blood pressure, and oxygen level, then sedated (with IV medications) to allow insertion of the scope to the upper end of the colon. (Some patients elect to undergo colonoscopy without sedation, though most prefer to be sedated.) The steerable scope has a light source and biopsy channel, as well as suction and water infusion channels (for cleaning up residual stool and debris).

During the procedure, a biopsy forceps or snare may be inserted to remove polyps or take tissue samples, a clip may be placed to stop bleeding, or an injection needle may tattoo a site for future identification. The entire process generally takes approximately 40 minutes.

The procedure nurse may need to provide pressure on your abdomen to allow the scope to reach the beginning of the colon. In some cases, you may be asked to change position, e.g., roll onto your back or right side, to assist in scope advancement. The sedative medications can affect memory for a short period, so it is not unusual to have no recollection of the procedure or talking with the physician afterwards.

You are not allowed to drive for the remainder of your procedure day, so you will need a licensed driver over age 18 to drive you home.

How to Prepare

See Colonoscopy/Preps for full details on the various colonoscopy preps. In addition, like all sedated procedures, you cannot take anything by mouth for 3 hours prior to the procedure.

If you have not already done so, you should review the Colonoscopy, Flexible Sigmoidoscopy, and Upper Endoscopy/EGD Consent (pdf). You can also watch an overview of a colonoscopy on our Videos page.