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A colonoscopy is an examination of the bowels using a colonoscope, or a thin, flexible tube with a light and camera. It can help identify issues like colorectal cancer, polyps, and ulcers During a colonoscopy, your doctor checks for abnormalities or diseases in your large intestine, particularly the colon..

Why is a colonoscopy performed?
A colonoscopy can be performed as a screening for colorectal cancer and other problems. The screening can help your doctor:
  • look for signs of cancer and other problems

  • explore the cause of unexplained changes in bowel habits

  • evaluate symptoms of abdominal pain or bleeding

  • find a reason for unexplained weight loss, chronic constipation, or diarrhea


The American College of Surgeons estimates that 90 percent of polyps or tumors can be detected through colonoscopy screenings.

What is a Colonoscopy?

What are the risks of a colonoscopy?

Since a colonoscopy is a routine procedure, there are typically few lasting effects from this test. In the vast majority of cases, the benefits of detecting problems and beginning treatment far outweigh the risks of complications from a colonoscopy.


However, some rare complications include:

  • bleeding from a biopsy site if a biopsy was done

  • a negative reaction to the sedative being used

  • a perforation in the rectal wall or colon

Colonoscopies are not typically painful since the sedative will prevent you from remembering the procedure.

A procedure called virtual colonoscopy uses CT scans or MRIs to take pictures of your colon. If it is an option and you opt for it instead, you can avoid some of the complications associated with traditional colonoscopy, although bowel prep is still required.


However, it comes with its own disadvantages. For instance, it has slightly less sensitivity in seeing very small polyps when compared to traditional colonoscopies. As a newer technology, it’s also less likely to be covered by health insurance.

What happens after a colonoscopy?

After the procedure is done, you’ll wait for about an hour to allow the sedative to wear off. You’ll be advised not to drive for the next 24 hours, until its full effects fade.

If your doctor removes tissue or a polyp during a biopsy, they’ll send it to a laboratory for testing. Your doctor will tell you the results when they’re ready, which is normally within a few days.

Frequent Questions:

How long does a colonoscopy take?

A typical colonoscopy takes about 15 minutes to an hour, depending on whether the doctor has to remove any polyps or tissue for a biopsy. Plan to spend a few hours at the hospital or endoscopy clinic in total to account for preparation and recovery from the sedative.


Are colonoscopies painful?

Colonoscopies are not typically painful since the sedative will prevent you from remembering the procedure. If you aren’t in the United States, speak with your doctor about what options are available for pain management if a sedative isn’t an option. There could be some mild discomfort in the rectum or stomach after the procedure as well as some bloating from the carbon dioxide.

At what age should I start getting colonoscopies?

Some organizations have recommended colonoscopy screenings every 10 years between ages 50 and 75 years if they are at average risk for colorectal cancer. However, some organizations have recommended starting screenings at 45 years old instead.

Speak with your doctor about your circumstances to determine when to start screenings.

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