A colonoscopy is a medical procedure used to check for any abnormalities, infections or diseases in the lower intestine or colon. This procedure uses a thin, flexible camera to provide images of the internal functioning and structures of the concerned organs.
The colon is the lowest part of the gastrointestinal tract, which is responsible for absorbing food, extracting nutrients and then disposing of waste. The colon is connected to the anus (the opening through which the body expels faeces) via the rectum. In some cases, a colonoscopy may be performed to collect tissue samples for a biopsy or to remove polyps – abnormal tissue growth.
Purpose of Colonoscopy
A colonoscopy is performed to check for colon cancer and any other infections or diseases related to the colon. The doctor can use a colonoscopy for the below or more purposes:
- Check for cancer and other colon-related issues
- Analyse the causes of problems such as unexplained bowel habit changes
- Determine the causes of abdominal pain or bleeding
- Know the reason for unexplained weight loss, diarrhoea, or extreme constipation
It is recommended that all people above the age of 50 years should get a colonoscopy in every 5 years to check to any symptoms of early warning signs of colon cancer or other critical problems.
Procedure of Colonoscopy
Before the beginning of the procedure, the doctors will instruct the patient to prep the bowel by consuming a clear liquid diet at least 24 to 72 hours before the procedure. This diet will include:
- Coffee or tea
- Juices (pulp-free)
- Sports drinks
The patients should not take any drinks or liquids which are red or purple since that can discolour the colon and cause problems in diagnosis. Also, the patient should disclose all medications, supplements, drugs, etc. that they are consuming. In most cases, the doctor will advise stopping these medications so that these do no alter the results or increase the risk of complications.
A night before the procedure, the doctor will give the patient a laxative and ask to flush out the colon through an enema on the day of the procedure. After that, the patient is administered with a sedative.
During the procedure, the patient will lie on the side and the doctor will place the knees close to the chest to get a better view of the colon. Once places optimally, the doctor will insert a flexible, lighted tube mounted with a camera, known as a colonoscope, into the anus. This instrument is then guided slowly and gently up through the rectum and then into the colon. The camera on top of the instrument provides images of the inside of the colon on a monitor to enable detailed analysis. During the procedure, the doctor will inflate the colon through carbon dioxide to get a better view.
In some cases, the procedure can involve removing polyps or collecting a tissue sample for biopsy. On average, a colonoscopy takes anywhere between 40 minutes to an hour.
After the procedure, the doctor will shift the patient to a recovery room, allowing the sedative to wear off. Once the patient is in off the impact of sedative, he/she can be discharged, following there are no complications. The patients will be advised not to drive for at least 24 hours after the procedure since the effect of the sedative can last that long. Hence, the patient must be accompanied by a friend or family to be driven home.
Post the colonoscopy, the patient might experience some gas and bloating, which is possibly due to the gas that was used to inflate the colon. This should automatically subside in some time and there would be no after-effects. In case, the gas problem continues for days after the procedure, the patient should contact the doctor and get checked if there is anything wrong.
Moreover, it is very normal for a patient who has undergone colonoscopy to pass a little bit of blood in the stool. However, if this continues for days after or blood clots develop, the patient should immediately contact the doctor. Also, one must be wary of excessive or frequent abdominal pain or high fever.
Risks of Colonoscopy
A colonoscopy is a very safe and a common medical procedure with no after-effects or a few in rare cases. The benefits of a colonoscopy in terms of diagnosis and treatment outweigh the risks and complications from the procedure, which are minimum. However, some rare risks and complications include:
- Bleeding, especially if colonoscopy was performed for biopsy
- Allergies and reactions from anaesthesia
- A tear in the rectal wall of the colon
Overall, a colonoscopy is a highly safe procedure which is essentially used only for primary diagnosis or to collect samples and remove polyps. The procedure is short, has a faster recovery and has minimum complications or risks.