A colonoscopy is a visual examination of the entire large intestine (bowel or colon) using a flexible, fiber optics-equipped colonoscope. This procedure is widely used as a screen exam for early identification of colon cancer. Colonoscopies are also performed as part of the diagnosis and treatment of specific symptoms or conditions such as rectal bleeding and irritable bowel syndrome. The colonoscope can also be used to remove abnormal growths (polyps) and gather tissue samples for biopsy.
To perform the colonoscope, the patient is positioned on his/her left side. The physician inserts the colonoscope through the anus and passes it through the entire length of the colon. The procedure typically takes between 20 and 60 minutes. A colonoscopy can be uncomfortable; therefore, patients are given intravenous sedatives and other pain medication. As a result, patients are not aware of the procedure while in progress and do not remember it afterward.
To assure a successful, exam, the patient’s bowel must be empty and clean. This requires a fast (clear liquids only) for at least 24 hours. The patient will also be required to take laxatives and drink special fluids as directed.
After the procedure, the patient should not drive or operate machinery for 24 hours. Some patients experience discomfort after the procedure, but this is usually minor and lasts only a short time.
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