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What Patients Can Expect When Preparing for a Colonoscopy

Woman preparing for a colonoscopy

It’s no secret many patients dread getting a colonoscopy, but not for the reasons you may think. During the procedure, patients are sedated and drift into a dreamlike state. Instead, it’s the prep the day before that can be the most difficult part.

“The prep has changed a lot over the years, for the better I think,” said Northeast Medical Group gastroenterologist Bryan Burns, MD.

What to expect the day before a colonoscopy

There are two parts to a colonoscopy, the day before and the day of. The day before a colonoscopy, patients will need to clear out their system so their clinician can examine the colon for pre-cancerous polyps.

To do this the patient needs to stick to a clear liquid diet for the full day before their colonoscopy. Liquids they can consume include ginger ale, chicken broth and Gatorade. Then in the evening, patients need to take a laxative prescribed by their clinician that can come in a liquid or pill form, followed by water.

Thankfully, Dr. Burns says the laxatives offered today are much easier to take than the options available in years past. While the day before may be uncomfortable, patients should rest easy knowing that they are making an important investment in their health.

What to expect the day of a colonoscopy

Now that the hard part is over, it’s time for the patient to have their colonoscopy. When patients arrive at an outpatient facility, they will be greeted by a nurse. Then the patient gets changed and gets an IV.

Once the patient is ready, they will meet with an anesthesiologist and the clinician who will be performing the colonoscopy. After the patient has spoken with their doctor, they are brought into a procedure room, given sedation and drift off to sleep. The actual colonoscopy itself only takes about 10 to 15 minutes.

By the time the patient wakes up, they should feel rested and not have any pain or discomfort. “The procedure is pretty easy, the prep is pretty easy and at the end of the day most of my patients say to me, ‘Wow that was a lot easier than I thought it was going to be,’” said Dr. Burns.

While he understands the two-day process seems like a lot for patients to endure, gastroenterologists like him advocate for colonoscopies because they are the gold standard for checking the colon. If a polyp is found, it can be removed, essentially removing the patient’s risk of colon cancer.