What is a colonoscopy?

A colonoscopy is a medical procedure during which a colonoscope (a long, thin flexible tube with a video camera at the end) is passed through the rectum and into the large intestine (colon). It allows your doctor to examine and treat conditions affecting the colon. A colonoscopy is performed in a hospital or specialist day centre.

Why is a colonoscopy done?

A colonoscopy is often done to investigate symptoms such as abdominal pain, weight loss, a change in bowel habit and bleeding. It is used to look for inflammation, infection and abnormal growths (polyps) within the colon. Colonoscopy is also frequently used to screen for bowel cancer particularly in older patients or those with a family history.

How do I prepare for a colonoscopy?

For a successful colonoscopy, it is essential that your bowel is thoroughly emptied of all waste material beforehand. This is achieved by taking a specific bowel preparation (see patient instructions). Failure to achieve complete cleansing of the bowel may result in your doctor missing important features of your colon, and may mean you have to return for a repeat procedure.

For safety reasons it is important that you have nothing to eat or drink for 6 hours prior to your colonoscopy.

Whilst most medications can be taken as usual with a sip of water on the day of your procedure, some medications need to be stopped, or have their dose altered.

You should notify your Gastroenterologist at least 7 days prior to your procedure if you are taking:

  • Blood thinners (plavix, warfarin, pradaxa etc), or
  • Diabetes medication (metformin, insulin etc)

Please bring your referral, a full list of your medications and your medicare card on the day of your procedure.

What will happen on the day?

After registering at reception, you will be seen briefly by your Gastroenterologist and your anaesthetist who will discuss your medical history and the procedure. You will then be given a light anaesthetic (sedative). While this is not a full anaesthetic, most patients are very comfortable during the procedure and don’t remember anything afterwards. Once sedated and lying in a comfortable position on your left side the endoscope is passed gently through the rectum and into the large bowel. During the colonoscopy your Gastroenterologist may use special instruments passed through the scope to take biopsies or remove polyps (small premalignant growths in the bowel). The procedure usually lasts for between 15 and 20 mins.

What happens after my colonoscopy?

Following the procedure you will be monitored in the recovery area until most of the sedative medication has worn off. You will then be offered something to eat and drink. Because of the sedative medication, it is essential that you have a friend or relative take you home and stay with you for several hours. It is strongly recommended that you do not drive, operate machinery or sign legal documents on the same day after the test.

The pathology results of any samples taken during the procedure will be sent to your referring doctor within 1 week.

Are there any risks or side-effects?

Overall a colonoscopy is a very safe procedure that most patients tolerate extremely well. The most common side effect is abdominal bloating or discomfort related to retained air within the bowel. More serious but rare complications (less than 1 in a thousand patients) can occur and include bleeding, or a tear in the lining of the colon (perforation). If this happens you will be admitted to hospital for an operation to repair it.

Please contact your Gastroenterologist or your nearest emergency department if you have any concerns or experience any of the following symptoms after your colonoscopy:

  • Worsening abdominal pain
  • Significant bleeding from the bowel
  • Fevers
  • Other symptoms that cause you concern

How accurate is a colonoscopy?

A colonoscopy is considered the most accurate way to assess your large bowel and to screen for colon polyps. No test is 100% accurate however and studies have shown that even in the best hands small polyps are missed in 5-10% of cases.

Your Gastroenterologist  will discuss having the procedure with you on the day of your colonoscopy, however if you have any questions or concerns please don’t hesitate to contact us.