A colonoscopy is a diagnostic procedure that uses a thin, flexible tube to examine parts of the colon or rectum. This minimally invasive procedure may be performed in conjunction with biopsies or endoscopic resections. Colonoscopies are typically recommended for patients over the age of 50 or individuals with a family history of colon or rectal cancer. A colonoscopy may also be administered if a patient is experiencing changes in his or her bowel habits or is experiencing unexplained abdominal issues.

Benefits of a Colonoscopy
A colonoscopy is a routine examination that provides a highly accurate representation of the rectum or colon. There are many benefits of a colonoscopy, some of which include diagnosing unexplained abdominal symptoms such as pain, changes in bowel movements, and blood in stool; as well as identifying polyps, tumors, or inflammatory bowel disease (colitis). A colonoscopy is a safe, efficient procedure that often eliminates the need for invasive abdominal surgery (i.e. removing polyps that could lead to colon cancer).

Risks of a Colonoscopy
The risk of complication during a colonoscopy is rare, occurring in less than 1% of patient procedures, according to the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons. Nevertheless, complications may arise during this procedure in the form of bleeding, an intestinal tear, or health problems associated with the anesthesia. Patients should schedule an appointment with their colon and rectal surgeon immediately if they exhibit adverse effects from the anesthesia or procedure.  

How is a Colonoscopy Performed?
Before a colonoscopy can be performed, patients must first clear their colon of any debris or residue. Doing so will ensure a clear view of the colon during the examination. To empty the colon, a physician may ask the patient to implement certain diet restrictions, take a laxative, use an over-the-counter enema kit, or adjust medications temporarily.

During the examination, patients typically receive an intravenous sedation to limit discomfort. After the anesthesia has been administered, a colonoscope is inserted into the rectum and advanced into a portion of the colon. A biopsy or the removal of a polyp may be performed at this time, if necessary. The colonoscope is equipped with a small video camera. This allows the physician to take images of the colon during the examination and inspect them at a later time. Most colonoscopies take an hour to complete.

Patients may experience some discomfort, as well as gas or bloating following the examination. A strict diet may be recommended after a colonoscopy if a polyp was removed.