colonoscopyAlthough colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer related deaths in the United States, it is 90 percent preventable with early proper screening. If you are 50 or older, the American Cancer Society recommends a screening. Additionally, if there is a history of colorectal cancer in your family, you should check with your physician to discuss what screenings might be appropriate for you.

What is Colonoscopy?

Colonoscopy is a procedure in which a trained specialist uses a long, flexible, narrow tube with a light and tiny camera on one end, called a colonoscope or scope, to look inside your rectum and colon. Colonoscopy can show irritated and swollen tissue, ulcers, polyps, and cancer.

Why do doctors use colonoscopy?

A colonoscopy can help a doctor find the cause of unexplained symptoms, such as the following:

  • changes in your bowel activity
  • pain in your abdomen
  • bleeding from your anus
  • unexplained weight loss

Doctors also use colonoscopy as a screening tool for colon polyps and cancer. Screening is testing for diseases when you have no symptoms. Screening may find diseases at an early stage, when a doctor has a better chance of curing the disease.

Screening for Colon & Rectal Cancer

Your doctor will recommend screening for colon and rectal cancer at age 50 if you don’t have health problems or other factors that make you more likely to develop colon cancer.

Risk factors for colorectal cancer include the following:

  • someone in your family has had polyps or cancer of the colon or rectum
  • a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease
  • other factors, such as if you weigh too much or smoke cigarettes

If you are at higher risk for colorectal cancer, your doctor may recommend screening at a younger age, and you may need to be tested more often.

If you are older than 75, talk with your doctor about whether you should be screened. For more information, read the current colorectal cancer screening guidelines from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF).

Government health insurance plans, such as Medicare, and private health insurance plans sometimes change whether and how often they pay for cancer screening tests. Check with your insurance plan to find out how often your insurance will cover a screening colonoscopy.

Visit the National Cancer Institute to learn more about colon and rectal cancer.

How do I prepare for a colonoscopy?

To prepare for a colonoscopy, you will need to talk with your doctor, arrange for a ride home, clean out your bowel, and change your diet.

Talk with your doctor

You should talk with your doctor about any medical conditions you have and all prescribed and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, and supplements you take, including the following:

  • aspirin or medicines that contain aspirin
  • nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen or naproxen
  • arthritis medicines
  • blood thinners
  • diabetes medicines
  • vitamins that contain iron or iron supplements

Arrange for a ride home

For safety reasons, you can’t drive for 24 hours after the procedure, as the sedatives or anesthesia used during the procedure needs time to wear off. You will need to make plans for getting a ride home after the procedure.

Clean out your bowel and change your diet

A health care professional will give you written bowel prep instructions to follow at home before the procedure. A health care professional orders a bowel prep so that little to no stool is present in your intestine. A complete bowel prep lets you pass stool that is clear. Stool inside your colon can prevent your doctor from clearly seeing the lining of your intestine.

You may need to follow a clear liquid diet for one to three days before the procedure and avoid drinks that contain red or purple dye. The instructions will provide specific direction about when to start and stop the clear liquid diet. In most cases, you may drink or eat the following:

  • fat-free bouillon or broth
  • strained fruit juice, such as apple or white grape—doctors recommend avoiding orange juice
  • water
  • plain coffee or tea, without cream or milk
  • sports drinks in flavors such as lemon, lime, or orange
  • gelatin in flavors such as lemon, lime, or orange

Your doctor will tell you before the procedure when you should have nothing by mouth.

A health care professional will ask you to follow the directions for a bowel prep before the procedure. The bowel prep will cause diarrhea, so you should stay close to a bathroom.

Different bowel preps may contain different combinations of laxatives, pills that you swallow or powders that you dissolve in water and other clear liquids, and enemas. Some people will need to drink a large amount, often a gallon, of liquid laxative over a scheduled amount of time—most often the night before the procedure. You may find this part of the bowel prep difficult; however, completing the prep is very important. Your doctor will not be able to see your colon clearly if the prep is incomplete.

Call a health care professional if you have side effects that prevent you from finishing the prep.

How do doctors perform a colonoscopy?

A trained specialist performs a colonoscopy in a hospital or an outpatient center.

A health care professional will place an intravenous (IV) needle in a vein in your arm to give you sedatives, anesthesia, or pain medicine so you can relax during the procedure. The health care staff will monitor your vital signs and keep you as comfortable as possible.

For the procedure, you’ll be asked to lie on a table while the doctor inserts a colonoscope into your anus and slowly guides it through your rectum and into your colon. The scope pumps air into your large intestine to give the doctor a better view. The camera sends a video image of the intestinal lining to a monitor, allowing the doctor to examine your intestinal tissues. The doctor may move you several times on the table to adjust the scope for better viewing. Once the scope has reached the opening to your small intestine, the doctor slowly withdraws it and examines the lining of your large intestine again.

During the procedure, the doctor may remove polyps and send them to a lab for testing. Colon polyps are common in adults and are harmless in most cases. However, most colon cancer begins as a polyp, so removing polyps early is an effective way to prevent cancer.

The doctor may also perform a biopsy. You won’t feel the biopsy.

Colonoscopy typically takes 30 to 60 minutes.

What should I expect after a colonoscopy?

After a colonoscopy, you can expect the following:

  • You’ll stay at the hospital or outpatient center for 1 to 2 hours after the procedure.
  • You may have abdominal cramping or bloating during the first hour after the procedure.
  • The sedatives or anesthesia takes time to wear off completely.
  • You should expect a full recovery by the next day, and you should be able to go back to your normal diet.
  • After the procedure, you—or a friend or family member—will receive instructions on how to care for yourself after the procedure. You should follow all instructions.
  • A friend or family member will need to drive you home after the procedure.

If the doctor removed polyps or performed a biopsy, you may have light bleeding from your anus. This bleeding is normal. Some results from a colonoscopy are available right after the procedure. After the sedatives or anesthesia has worn off, the doctor will share results with you or, if you choose, with your friend or family member. A pathologist will examine the biopsy tissue. Biopsy results take a few days or longer to come back.

What are the risks of colonoscopy?

The risks of colonoscopy include the following:

  • bleeding
  • perforation of the colon
  • abnormal reaction to the sedative, including respiratory or cardiac problems
  • abdominal pain
  • death, although this risk is rare

Bleeding and perforation are the most common complications from colonoscopy. Most cases of bleeding occur in patients who have polyps removed. The doctor can treat bleeding that occurs during the colonoscopy right away. However, you may have delayed bleeding up to two weeks after the procedure. The doctor diagnoses and treats delayed bleeding with a repeat colonoscopy. The doctor may need to treat perforation with surgery.

A study of screening colonoscopies found roughly two serious complications for every 1,000 procedures.

When Should I Call My Doctor? 

If you have any of the following symptoms after a colonoscopy, seek medical care right away:

  • severe abdominal pain
  • fever
  • continued bloody bowel movements or continued bleeding from the anus
  • dizziness
  • weakness*

*Courtesy: This content is provided and made available by National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases 

Douglas G. Adler, MD

Patient Rating:

4.4

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Douglas Adler, MD, is a Professor in the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Department of Internal Medicine at the University of Utah School of Medicine. He is also an investigator and director of therapeutic endoscopy at Huntsman Cancer Institute. His interests focus on pancreatobiliary disease (disorders of the pancreas, gallbladder, a... Read More

Linda S. Book, MD

Dr. Linda Book graduated from the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, completed a pediatric residency at Cincinnati Children’s Medical Center and the University of Utah followed by fellowship training in Pediatric Gastroenterology at the University of Utah. She is Chief of the Division of Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutriti... Read More

Kathleen K. Boynton, MD

Patient Rating:

4.8

4.8 out of 5

Kathleen Boynton, M.D. received her medical degree from the University of Florida. She also served as an Intern, Resident, and Chief Resident while in Florida. Dr. Boynton then came to Utah, and completed her Fellowship at the University of Utah. Her clinical interests include immune related disorders of the GI tract. Dr. Boynton is board certi... Read More

Specialties:

Endoscopy, GI Motility, Gastroenterology, Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), Inflammatory Bowel Disease/Crohn's/Ulcerative Colitis, Women's GI Health

Locations:

Redwood Health Center
Gastroenterology
801-213-9797
University Hospital
Gastroenterology Endoscopy Center
801-213-9797
University Hospital
Gastroenterology, Clinic 3
801-213-9797

Richard M. Craig, Jr., MD

Patient Rating:

5.0

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Dr. Richard M. Craig, Jr., is board-certified in Gastroenterology. He received his medical degree from the State University of New York at Buffalo in 1990 and completed an internal medicine residency at the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in 1993. He completed his Gastroenterology Fellowship at Johns Hopkins Bayview in 1993. Dr Craig's prof... Read More

Specialties:

Endoscopy, Gastroenterology

Locations:

Redstone Health Center 801-213-9797
Redwood Health Center
Gastroenterology
801-213-9797

John C. Fang, MD

Patient Rating:

4.8

4.8 out of 5

John Fang M.D., is the Division Chief and Professor Medicine of the Division of Gastroenterology at the University of Utah Hospital and Huntsman Cancer Institute. His clinical interests include treatment, diagnosis, and continuing care for gastrointestinal diseases and endoscopy. He specializes in Barrett's Esophagus, Enteral Nutrition, Esophageal... Read More

Specialties:

Barrett's Esophagus, Endoscopy, Enteral Nutrition, Eosinophilic Esophagitis, Esophageal Diseases, GI Motility, Gastroenterology, Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), Therapeutic Endoscopy

Locations:

Huntsman Cancer Institute
Endoscopy
801-213-9797
Redwood Health Center
Gastroenterology
801-213-9797
University Hospital
Gastroenterology, Clinic 3
801-213-9797
University Hospital
Gastroenterology Endoscopy Center
801-213-9797

Ann Flynn, MD

Dr. Flynn attended medical school at New York Medical College. She completed internal medicine residency training at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and gastroenterology fellowship training at the Indiana University School of Medicine, where she served as Chief Fellow. She completed an advanced fellowship in inflammatory bowel disease... Read More

Specialties:

Diarrhea, Endoscopy, Fecal Microbiota Transplant (FMT), Gastroenterology, Inflammatory Bowel Disease/Crohn's/Ulcerative Colitis

Locations:

South Jordan Health Center 801-213-9797
University Hospital
Gastroenterology, Clinic 3
801-213-9797
University Hospital
Gastroenterology Endoscopy Center
801-213-9797

Juan F. Gallegos-Orozco, MD

Patient Rating:

4.8

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Dr. Juan F. Gallegos-Orozco graduated from medical school in Mexico and completed post-graduate medical education in Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology in both Mexico and the United States, where he recently completed fellowship training in Transplant Hepatology at the prestigious Mayo School of Graduate Medical Education, Mayo Clinic in Phoeni... Read More

Specialties:

Endoscopy, Gastroenterology, Hepatology, Liver Cancer, Liver Disease, Liver Transplant

Locations:

University Hospital
Kidney and Liver Clinic
801-213-9797
University Hospital
Liver Transplant
801-213-9797
University Hospital
Gastroenterology Endoscopy Center
801-213-9797

Andrew J. Gawron, MD, PhD

Dr. Andrew Gawron is an Assistant Professor at the University of Utah and VA Medical Center. His clinical interests include treating patients with esophageal disease (gastroesophageal reflux disease, motility disorders such as achalasia, and eosinophilic esophagitis). He performs colonoscopy, upper endoscopy and interprets esophageal motility and p... Read More

Specialties:

Endoscopy, Eosinophilic Esophagitis, Esophageal Diseases, Esophageal Motility Disorders, Gastroenterology, Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

Locations:

University Hospital
Gastroenterology, Clinic 3
801-213-9797
University Hospital
Gastroenterology Endoscopy Center
801-213-9797
Veterans Administration Medical Center 801-584-1236

M. Kyle Jensen, MD

Dr. Jensen received his medical degree from the University of Utah School of Medicine, completed a pediatric residency at Primary Children’s Hospital, followed by a Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition Fellowship at the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He then completed an Advanced Pediatric Hepatology and T... Read More

Priyanka Kanth, MD, MSCI

Dr. Priyanka Kanth received her Medical Degree from Kasturba Medical College in India. She obtained graduate training in Internal Medicine from St. Mary’s Hospital in the United Kingdom and the University of Connecticut in the United States. Dr. Kanth completed her fellowship in the specialty of Gastroenterology at the University of Utah, after whi... Read More

Specialties:

Barrett's Esophagus, Colon Cancer, Constipation, Diarrhea, Endoscopy, Eosinophilic Esophagitis, Esophageal Diseases, Fecal Incontinence, Gastroenterology, Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Polyposis (FAP), Women's GI Health

Locations:

Redwood Health Center
Gastroenterology
801-213-9797
University Hospital
Gastroenterology, Clinic 3
801-213-9797
University Hospital
Gastroenterology Endoscopy Center
801-213-9797

Laura A. Pace, MD, PhD

Laura A. Pace, MD, PHD is a gastroenterologist who has specialized expertise in neurogastroenterology and motility disorders. She is board certified in Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology and has special fellowship training in neurogastroenterology and motility disorders. Dr. Pace focuses on the diagnosis and management of individuals with gastr... Read More

Specialties:

Autonomic Disorders, Balloon Enteroscopy, Breath Tests, Connective Tissue Diseases, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, Endoscopy, GI Motility, Neurogastroenterology, Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS), SmartPill, Video Capsule Endoscopy

Locations:

Huntsman Cancer Institute
Endoscopy
801-213-9797
University Hospital
Gastroenterology Endoscopy Center
801-213-9797
University Hospital
Gastroenterology, Clinic 3
801-213-9797
Veterans Administration Medical Center
Gastroenterology Lab
801-582-1565

Kathryn A. Peterson, MD

Patient Rating:

4.8

4.8 out of 5

Kathryn Peterson, MD is an Associate Professor of Gastroenterology at University of Utah Health. She is certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine.Dr. Peterson specializes in diagnosing and treating diseases of the digestive system including Eosiniphilic Esophagitis, Barrett’s Esophagus, and inflammatory bowel disease. She completed her m... Read More

Specialties:

Barrett's Esophagus, Endoscopy, Eosinophilic Esophagitis, Esophageal Diseases, GI Motility, Gastroenterology, Inflammatory Bowel Disease/Crohn's/Ulcerative Colitis, Women's GI Health

Locations:

Huntsman Cancer Institute
Endoscopy
801-213-9797
University Hospital
Gastroenterology, Clinic 3
801-213-9797
University Hospital
Gastroenterology Endoscopy Center
801-213-9797

Michael J. Sossenheimer, MD, PhD, FACP, FACG, FASGE, AGAF

Michael Sossenheimer is a Clinical Track Associate Professor of Medicine in the Division of Gastroenterology. He studied medicine at the University of Düsseldorf and University of Heidelberg, Germany, where he earned his MD-PhD in 1989. Dr. Sossenheimer completed his internships and residency at the University of Düsseldorf and University of Maryla... Read More

Matthew H. Steenblik, MD

Patient Rating:

4.8

4.8 out of 5

Dr. Matthew Steenblik completed his medical degree and Internal Medicine residency training at the University of Utah. He then served as chief medical resident in the Department of Medicine before completing his Gastroenterology fellowship at the University of Utah where he also served as chief fellow. He is currently seeing all types of cases i... Read More

I. Raymond Thomason, MD

Patient Rating:

4.7

4.7 out of 5

Dr. Ray Thomason graduated from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School and completed post-graduate medical education in Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology/Hepatology at the University of Utah. He has been involved in Transplant Hepatology in Utah since 1986. He is board certified in Internal Medicine, Gastroenterology, Hepatology a... Read More

Specialties:

Endoscopy, Gastroenterology, Hepatology, Liver Cancer, Liver Disease, Liver Transplant

Locations:

Huntsman Cancer Institute
Endoscopy
801-213-9797
University Hospital
Kidney and Liver Clinic
801-213-9797
University Hospital
Liver Transplant
801-213-9797

Christopher C. Tietze, MD, PhD

Chris Tietze, MD is an Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Division of Gastroenterology at the University of Utah. He is the Director of Hepatology at Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Salt Lake City. Dr. Tietze trained under Dr. David Alpers in the Division of Gastroenterology at Washington University in St. Louis. Dr. Tietze has research inte... Read More

Specialties:

Endoscopy, Gastroenterology, Hepatology, Liver Cancer, Liver Disease, Liver Transplant

Locations:

University Hospital
Kidney and Liver Clinic
801-213-9797
Veterans Administration Medical Center 801-584-1236

Ashok K. Tuteja, MD, MRCP(UK), MPH

Patient Rating:

4.4

4.4 out of 5

Ashok K. Tuteja, M.D., M.P.H., M.R.C.P. received his medical degree from Delhi University. He did his internal medicine residency in England where he was awarded Membership in the Royal College of Physicians (M.R.C.P.). He received his Masters in Public Health from Oregon Health Sciences University. He completed his gastroenterology fellowship at... Read More

Specialties:

Constipation, Diarrhea, Endoscopy, Fecal Incontinence, GI Motility, Gastroenterology, Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Locations:

Farmington Health Center 801-213-9797
University Hospital
Gastroenterology, Clinic 3
801-213-9797
Veterans Administration Medical Center 801-584-1236

Michael J. Walker, MD

Patient Rating:

4.7

4.7 out of 5

Dr. Michael Walker received his Medical Degree from the Chicago Medical School at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science and completed an Internal Medicine residency at the University of Utah Department of Medicine, where he also served as Chief Medical Resident. He completed his Gastroenterology Fellowship at the University of Cincin... Read More

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South Jordan Health Center 5126 W. Daybreak Parkway
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