A colonoscopy is a type of endoscopy that is used to examine the colon and small intestine in order to detect any abnormalities (inflammation, ulcers, polyps, etc.). The procedure can take anywhere from 20 to 60 minutes, depending on what is found during the procedure.
The recommended age to start having colonoscopy procedures to screen for colorectal cancer is 45 to 50 years old. According to the NHS, all patients ages 60 to 74 in the UK who are registered with a GP will also be sent home screening kits to collect stool samples every two years.
Depending on your risks, your doctor will assess and tell you how often you should have a colonoscopy. Common risk factors include, but are not limited to:
previously extracted polyps
prior history or family history of colorectal cancer
Before the test you should follow instructions for cleansing the bowel to make it easier for the doctor to observe it. This will involve drinking only liquids in the 24 hours before the procedure, and taking a solution that will help you empty your bowels.
During the procedure, you will be partially or fully sedated. You will be placed on your side and the doctor will insert the endoscope through the anus to pass through your large intestine.
Make sure to let your doctor know if you have any pre-existing conditions and/or regularly taken medication. These may include:
any allergies to medications
any other medications you take that may affect blood clotting
A colonoscopy is usually well tolerated and is rarely painful. At most, you will feel pressure, swelling, or cramping during the procedure. Less than one per cent of patients will experience serious complications.
Patients will remain in a recovery room until discharged, when they will be driven home by a family member or friend. Your doctor will advise when to return normal diet and regular medications. There may be some cramping and the sensation to pass gas, though this should quickly pass.
There is now an alternative to traditional colonoscopy that is much less invasive and does not require sedation. This is called a virtual colonoscopy, which is an examination that uses images of the inside of the bowel and colon obtained by means of computerised tomography (CT or CAT scan) instead of images taken by the colonoscopy camera.
Other alternatives include a rectosigmoidoscopy, however it does not cover as much of the colon as a traditional colonoscopy, and home screening tests for bowel cancer by collecting stool samples.
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