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9 Tips To Make Your Colonoscopy Easier

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Colonoscopy is the “gold standard” for finding and removing precancerous polyps and colon cancers. But many people delay colonoscopy because of the uncomfortable pre-exam preparation. In this Health Alert Johns Hopkins provides practical advice to help you make the best of this necessary test.

There may be a few jokes about colonoscopy, but what you need to do to ensure the doctor a clear view of your colon is not funny: You will have to drink large amounts of an odd-tasting liquid that prompts your digestive system to clean itself out in a hurry.

Here are 9 practical tips to help you get through the colonoscopy experience more comfortably:

Colonoscopy Tip 1: Get a head start. Consider lightening up on your food intake two days before the test, avoiding hard-to-digest items such as meat, eggs, nuts, and leafy greens. Instead, eat lots of fiber in the form of vegetables and fruits, or start the liquid diet early, so there will be less to purge.

Colonoscopy Tip 2: Stock up. Get what you will need ahead of time, including clear liquids such as chicken or vegetable broth, apple juice, and bottled water with electrolytes. Buy extra-soft toilet paper, paper towels, or disposable baby wipes (be careful not to buy cleansing wipes containing scent or alcohol).

Colonoscopy Tip 3: Be gentle to yourself. Plan to take two days off work: the day before the test and the day of the test itself.

Colonoscopy Tip 4: Stay hydrated. A recent study shows that some laxative products made with sodium phosphate may contribute to dehydration and thus cause kidney damage. All laxatives cause some water loss, so drink plenty of fluids throughout the prep and after the test. Avoid both alcoholic and carbonated drinks before the procedure, as they increase dehydration.

Colonoscopy Tip 5: Reduce the opportunity for accidents. Stay home near a bathroom during the process.

Colonoscopy Tip 6: Prepare the bathroom. Line the wastebasket with a plastic bag. Instead of toilet paper, use wet washcloths or disposable wipes, such as unscented baby wipes (check that the product is flushable). Applied generously, petroleum jelly and hemorrhoid products can ease anal soreness that might develop. Soaking in a warm tub may help as well.

Colonoscopy Tip 7: Try to relax. Most people dread the actual scoping procedure, and feelings of anxiety or concern are normal. The mild sedative given for a colonoscopy relieves those problems, and you may not even remember the process. If you are feeling especially anxious, talk to your doctor beforehand about providing a mild tranquilizer or muscle relaxant for the procedure. And keep in mind that, compared with the preparation, the colonoscopy is usually over very quickly.

Colonoscopy Tip 8: Aftercare. You may feel some mild cramping or bloating and, rarely, nausea, up to a day afterward, caused by some air left in the colon. Eat lightly for a few days.

Colonoscopy Tip 9: Be relieved. When it’s over, it’s over. If the scoping shows no polyps or cancer, you are in the clear for a decade. If there are polyps, or even cancer, you will know, and you can be treated quickly.

Posted in Colon Cancer on March 24, 2009

Medical Disclaimer: This information is not intended to substitute for the advice of a physician. Click here for additional information: Health After 50 Disclaimer

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Health After 50 Alerts registered users may post comments and share experiences here at their own discretion. We regret that questions on individual health concerns to the editors cannot be answered in this space.

The views expressed here do not constitute medical advice, and do not represent the position of Scientific American Health After 50 or Remedy Health Media, LLC, which has no responsibility for any comments posted on this site.

Tip number 4, "Stay Hydrated", is ridiculous. Before any procedure that requires sedation, the patient is instructed to take nothing to eat or drink, including water, for 12 hours prior. So stay hydrated, but don't drink anything.

Posted by: michaelgtx | March 28, 2009 8:44 AM

"Tip number 9 "Be relieved", is a bit optimistic given the number of polyps that are missed. It improves the odds but it's hardly a guarantee.

Posted by: maxd | March 28, 2009 10:49 AM

In the real world, where people are working long hours (IF they're employed) the patient has no time to pamper himself/herself as suggested. It would be great to take time off before and after the procedure, etc., but in actuality, this is not going to happen. I'll be going back to work that day, holding my abdomen as I endure the cramping, the inbox and my boss, who'll be ticked because I had to take a couple of hours off.

Posted by: etq2000 | March 28, 2009 2:07 PM

The doctor tore and nicked my colon during my last colonoscopy and I had to have surgery and was in hospital for a week. I am due for another and am afraid to have it.

Posted by: Chicken | March 28, 2009 6:25 PM

At 74 I have had more than one, so where was this information when I needed it. This is not necessarily in the info handed out.

I have followed all of the suggestions in drinking the horrible stuff, but "It" always makes me bloat up and when I reach the last third or so, I vomit back more than I am able to keep down. When you report this to the doc or nurse, its oh well charlie, so solly.

I truly dread this procedure. Five vaginal deliveries was easier.

Thank you, June Coleman

Posted by: June Coleman | March 30, 2009 10:49 AM

When I had mine, it really was straightforward and simple. Truly, the worst part was arranging for a friend to chauffeur me home afterward and picking up my car the next day. Not only did I sleep during "the procedure," I slept after returning home for 18 hours. Maybe they missed some polyps, but I know that the whole thing improved my survival chances for the next ten years. I'm already an ovarian cancer survivor, and my baby brother is now undergoing chemo after his colon cancer treatments. (I mention this, because there is a statistical correlation between colon cancer and ovarian cancer, so close relatives of each kind of survivor need to be especially vigilant about both kinds.) Believe me, prophylactic testing for any cancer beats incomparably the "fun" of chemotherapy!

Posted by: owascolg | April 12, 2009 5:48 PM

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