What is a Colonoscopy?

Colonoscopy is the use of a special tool called a colonoscope (a thin, flexible tube with a camera on the end) to examine the inside of the colon and rectum. The tube is typically inserted anally, and it allows the physician to examine the large intestine from the inside. It may be done at any time to diagnose bowel problems, but routine colonoscopies are advised after the age of 50 to screen for colon cancer.

A colonoscopy may be performed to diagnose:

  • Intestinal ulcers
  • Polyps
  • Bowel cancer
  • An unidentified source of pain or bleeding in the intestine

You may be asked to drink only liquids in the days before a colonoscopy, or you may be given an enema to remove residual fecal matter. Before the exam, you are given medication to help you relax, and you lay on your side on a table. The scope is inserted into the anus and gently moved all the way through the large intestine. Air may be pumped into the intestine to improve the view for the physician. Any polyps that are found will be removed. Then the colonoscope will be withdrawn. A colonoscopy is not usually painful, but you may feel some bloating or have some cramps right afterward. If you had polyps removed you might experience a small amount of bleeding. Any side effects should go away within a few hours.

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