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Colonoscopy: An Ounce of Prevention


The purpose of a colonoscopy is to look inside your colon for polyps, cancers, ulcers and other conditions. According to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, it is important to get a colonoscopy to test for colon cancer once you are 50 years of age and continuing until age 75, since the disease usually has no symptoms. (Depending on your health history and family history, your doctor may want to start before age 50.)


Just before the procedure starts, you will receive some medicine to make you sleepy. This medicine (a sedative) will help you avoid discomfort from the procedure. Most people do not remember having the procedure. (Some doctors prefer to use general anesthesia, which requires an anesthesiologist.) The doctor will begin the colonoscopy with a rectal examination. The doctor will then insert the scope into the anus and as it’s advanced, he or she will inflate the bowel with a stream of air to allow better visualization of the surface


The endoscope is a thin, flexible tube that has a light and a camera at the tip. Images from the camera go to a TV monitor in the procedure room, allowing the doctor to see the inside of your colon on screen. The doctor will look for polyps, cancer or other abnormalities throughout your colon. Your doctor will also remove any polyps that are found. A colonoscopy usually takes around 20 to 30 minutes to complete. You may feel some gas during your recovery. It’s caused by the air used to inflate your colon. Most facilities will require someone to help you get home afterward.


Preparing for your colonoscopy is a process. You will need to restrict your diet and take your bowel-prep medicine to clean out your colon. You may also need to change your medication routine if you take certain medications. (Share your medication list with your doctor during your pre-colonoscopy appointment.) Make sure to speak with your doctor to find out if there are any other instructions you may need to follow.


Take care of your health by getting a colonoscopy when recommended. While the prep is inconvenient, most patients say the colonoscopy itself is easy. And you will have peace of mind knowing you have taken this important step to help protect your health.


Source: U.S. Preventive Services Task Force; UCLA Health System

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