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Essential Guide to Colonoscopy

Editor’s Note: A colonoscopy is a crucial medical procedure that allows doctors to visually examine the colon’s lining using a specialized tube with a camera. It is primarily used to detect colon cancer and other abnormalities like polyps, inflammation, or tears. Preparation for the procedure involves several steps, including dietary restrictions and laxatives, to ensure a clean colon. Despite the unpleasant preparation, colonoscopies are essential for early detection of serious conditions and can be life-saving.

The topic of this interest paper is colonoscopies. I chose this topic because I had to have a colonoscopy last year. It was an unpleasant yet interesting experience that I would like to learn more about because I may have to have another one next year.

A colonoscopy is a visual examination of the lining of the colon. This is the only procedure available that allows doctors to view the interior of the colon. Colonoscopies are performed by a gastroenterologist using a specialized tube called a colonoscope that has a light and camera at the end. The images are viewed on a television screen. Doctors use colonoscopies for many reasons.

Colonoscopies are most commonly used to check for possible colon cancer. During a colonoscopy, the doctor will look for abnormal growths called polyps. Like any other abnormal growths, they can be either malignant or benign. The doctor must first biopsy a polyp for microscopic examination. This process can conveniently be completed during the exam because the colonoscope has another opening in the tube that allows the doctor to biopsy abnormal growths.

A doctor may perform a colonoscopy if the patient is experiencing chronic colon inflammation or infections. Colonoscopies also allow doctors to check for tears in the lining of the large intestine as well. The most common symptoms that may alert a doctor to the possible need for a colonoscopy are chronic diarrhea, bloody stools, and other rectal bleeding. There is a quick test a doctor may perform to determine if blood is present in the rectum. With a quick rectal exam, the doctor will apply the sample to a special paper.

If there is a reaction, there is blood present and the patient will be sent to a gastroenterologist for further exam and most likely a colonoscopy. Many people think this exam is a simple procedure performed everyday with little problem. It is a fairly simple procedure, mildly invasive, but not major surgery. The part of the exam that people often may not realize, and in my opinion the most unpleasant part, is the pre-exam preparation the patient must endure. The pre-exam preparation actually starts seven days prior to the exam. For the first step of preparation patients are advised not to ingest any products containing aspirin, as well as any iron or herbal supplements. The patient can go about there lives until its time for the next step.

Step two begins two days before the exam. Patients must refrain from eating solid foods and are placed on a strict liquid diet. This delicious diet consists of fat free bouillon or broth, strained fruit juice, water, plain coffee or tea, diet soda, and gelatin. Once again some people may think this is not too bad considering there are many tests that require fasting for a period of time. What they do not realize is the colon must be empty and very clean for the doctors to examine the region clearly. This leads to the next stage of preparation.

Stage three begins about 24 hours prior to the exam. The patient must take a strong prescription laxative. This will cause significant diarrhea to clean the colon of stool. As if this were not enough, the patient moves into the last step which occurs about two hours prior to the exam. For this last step the patient must give themselves an over the counter brand enema as a last step to ensure the colon will be as clean as possible. By the time the patient completes the pre-exam preparation they should have little problem with the actual procedure, aside from the anxiety over the results.

During the procedure the patient is also allowed to watch the television with the doctor if they are interested. Below is a picture of what the patient may see on the monitor. It is interesting and often an unusual experience because the patient is viewing the on a television but knows it is there own body.

Though the procedure itself is invasive there are few risks involved. The doctors will often recommend using the rest of the day to relax until the effects of the sedatives have worn off. There is a lot of preparation for this examination but it is an examination that could be lifesaving to many patients. In the end, it should be well worth the discomfort to be sure there are no serious problems.


  1. Mayo Clinic Staff. “Colonoscopy.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Clinic. Accessed July 2024.
  2. American Cancer Society. “What Is a Colonoscopy?” American Cancer Society.
  3. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. “Colonoscopy.” NIDDK.
  4. Johns Hopkins Medicine. “Colonoscopy.” Johns Hopkins Medicine.
  5. Cleveland Clinic. “Colonoscopy: What You Need to Know.” Cleveland Clinic.