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What Happens at a Colonoscopy Screening?

By Dominic Ventura, D.O.

Published July 2, 2018

If you’re one of the many people who are nervous about getting a colonoscopy because you can’t tolerate pain, fear no more! Most people experience no pain, and in general, the most annoying part following the procedure is having a bit of gas! True, the “clean out” the day prior isn’t fun, but it doesn’t hurt.

A colonoscopy is an exam that allows us to look at the colon lining. The colonoscope is a flexible tube with a light and a tiny video camera on the end. The tube is about the same diameter as a finger and can be gently steered around the corners of the intestines. Special instruments can be passed through the scope to remove polyps or take biopsies (small tissue samples) of the colon lining.

Preparation for the colonoscopy is generally a clear liquid diet and a laxative the day prior. It’s important to follow the prep instructions carefully to ensure your colon is “squeaky clean” for the procedure.

When you arrive for the procedure, you’ll change into a gown and a nurse helps get you ready by checking vital signs and completing paperwork. An IV will started before you head to the procedure room. Once there, you’ll simply lay on your side in bed. You’ll be sedated, so you’re asleep during the entire procedure which takes anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes.

During the colonoscopy, the physician inserts the scope and slowly advances it through your large intestine, examining the lining. A second examination is done as the scope is slowly withdrawn. If anything abnormal is seen (such as polyps, ulcers, redness, etc.) some tissue may be biopsied or removed during the exam. Anything like this is sent to the lab for testing.

After the procedure, there’s a short recovery period before you’re sent home with a driver. (You were just under anesthesia, so you can’t drive yourself.) The doctor will review the results of the exam with you. If any biopsies were taken or polyps removed, you’ll receive the results in a few weeks.

Depending on how you react to anesthesia dictates how you will feel afterwards. Some people experience dizziness, nausea or just feel tired. It’s best to take it easy at home the rest of the day and evening. And eat! You just fasted for a day, so you need to start with a small meal, then increase food intake as you see fit.

So the big, bad, scary colonoscopy isn’t really so awful. It’s a very important part of early detection of colon cancer.


Dr. Dominic Ventura is board-certified in internal medicine and gastroenterology. He practices at Valley Gastroenterology Associates in Beaver County, Pennsylvania.