This post was written by Stenneth Adams, MD, PPG – General Surgery.
When I ask my patients why they haven’t had their colonoscopy yet, I get a lot of responses. The most common is that patients are afraid. Surprisingly, it’s not just the procedure and small associated risk that’s causing their anxiety, it’s also the preparation.
The day before a colonoscopy, you will need to drink a large amount of laxative or bowel prep mixture to stimulate your bowel movements. Most people are nervous about “cleaning out” the digestive system because they often associate the idea with a stomach virus or food poisoning. However, unlike those surprise experiences, you know your symptoms are a result of the steps you’ve taken, and it will all be over in less than 24 hours. Thankfully, there are a handful of ways to make the preparation experience a little more bearable. A few ideas include:
- Avoiding ruffage. Three to five days before you need to start your preparation, we suggest eliminating ruffage from your diet. It’s best to avoid salads, vegetables or any other high fiber foods because fiber is a bulking agent, which will make food “stick” in your digestive system.
- Plan ahead. On the day before your colonoscopy, take the afternoon or entire day off work if you’re able. It’s easier to start your prep earlier in the day rather than trying to do it all in the evening. This will also help you avoid nausea. If nausea is an issue for you, let your doctor know. If you must start your prep in the evening, do your best to be done in time to get a decent night’s sleep.
- Try a few tasty tricks. Mix the solution with something that tastes good to you. Try using Crystal Light™, Gatorade™, fruit juice or any other thin, clear liquids. While beer and alcohol are clear liquids, please refrain from consuming them. They are not allowed. You must also avoid juices with pulp or any creamy liquids, like milk. Many physicians will also ask you to avoid any red-colored liquids.
- Drink plenty of fluids. You may feel like you’ve drunk enough once you’ve finished your solution, but it’s critically important to stay hydrated throughout the process. This is especially important for older patients.
Remember don’t let the preparation scare you away from getting a colonoscopy. This life-saving procedure isn’t recommended to simply detect colon cancer but also prevent it.
Some screening tools may seem easier, however, they’re not as effective as a complete colonoscopy. Many of these screening tests only detect a potential for abnormal cells, cancer or a large tumor. Unlike other screening tests, a colonoscopy is one of the few cancer screenings that is geared toward prevention and not just early detection.
Prevention is key
Colon cancer has the potential to be prevented. This unique feature of a colonoscopy allows us to remove the precancerous polyps before they grow into cancer. Current guidelines recommend a colonoscopy for everyone starting at age 50. Certain patients may need to be screened sooner.
If you have questions about the procedure or preparations, be sure to speak with your physician. Don’t be afraid of the small inconvenience of preparation. It may save your life.