The Colonoscopy Experience

One of the questions I get more often than almost any other is should you get a colonoscopy? Well, let me take a moment to help you with that decision.

A few years ago, I had long passed the age that they recommend getting your first colonoscopy. I felt my digestion was very good, I ate fairly well, I hadn’t had any illnesses of the GI tract and there was no colon cancer in my family. Then Dr. Oz talked about his colonoscopy experience and the fact that he had a precancerous polyp. That along with the fact that my mother had had polyps at every colonoscopy made me start thinking. Then the doctor mentioned that my mother had colon cancer, but that she was so elderly at this point that it wasn’t worth doing anything as it would never amount to anything in her lifetime.

So I made the appointment and decided to make it an educational experience. First of all in many other countries, including Europe and the Far East, colonoscopies are done routinely without sedation. So even though here it has become the norm (not surprising since we love our numbness in this country), it isn’t a requirement. In fact, I was told at the clinic I went to, that most nurses and doctors have theirs without sedation and go right back to work. So if you have put off a colonoscopy because of the fear of sedation, there is another option. More about this later…

Now I think that family history and your gut history are important factors in deciding to have a colonoscopy. Any digestive cancer, chronic constipation or gut condition, long periods of antibiotics, any incidences of rectal bleeding, any prior pelvic surgery or injury … all are reasons to get a colonoscopy. But one reason not to get one is simply because a physician has nothing else to offer you for your symptoms. So when you are deciding, know why.

There are risks involved, but there are risks with almost everything including getting out of bed in the morning. Please don’t let the risks keep you from having a procedure that is not just a diagnostic tool, but can also be a treatment all in one. Because you can have polyps removed during the colonoscopy as they are found. So you’re really getting two things for the discomfort of one.

Now discomfort. Let’s start with the prep. I did a lot of research and clarified this with my gastroenterologist during my colonoscopy as I was yacking my head off and asking a million questions because I had chosen to get my procedure without anesthesia. There are a number of preps and the prep instructions are the same whether you are a 400 pound beast or a 95 pound weakling, whether you have chronic constipation where you are in the bathroom once every two weeks or you are a vegan with complete clearance in 3 minutes. So you need to adjust your prep to you. I have written an entire guide on Colonoscopy Preps, so you can read that by clicking here.

I chose the Miralax prep so I could experience a conventional prep and because it was my first time. I did two doses and that was it, but I did fast for the entire day before my procedure. If I was to do this again, I would add colonics into my prep and probably take advantage of the situation and do a good intestinal cleanse a couple of weeks before.

Now back to discomfort. I realized a couple of things about colonoscopies. There really are no nerves of feeling in the lining of the colon, but there are stretch receptors. That means that there really is no pain involved, instead there can be cramping from the stretch receptors as the scope goes around corners. So I felt absolutely nothing until the scope reached the first turn in the colon (there are 6 turn points in the normal colon). The more of an angle in the turn, the more pressure you can feel which translates into cramping. So it was pretty mild through most of the colon, however, there were a couple of areas that had a few twists and turns.

Now if you want to consider sedation, which may be the best choice if you are very anxious, have had a long history of the use of prescription or narcotic analgesics (your tolerance is very low for pain) or you have a great deal of difficulty remaining still, then consider sedation. Now just like with dentistry, there are different options for sedation. You don’t have to be knocked out completely, and you may choose to simply be relaxed. You can choose to have a pain killer instead of a sedative. You can choose a sedative that just makes you relaxed, but completely conscious. Also remember that if you choose most of the sedation options, you cannot drive yourself home after. So you’ll have to rope a friend in to pick you up.

Another aspect that might be something to consider is where and when. You need to fast the day of your colonoscopy at the very least, so having your test earlier in the day is a better choice if you don’t want to go too long without eating. Also the later in the day you go, the longer you may have to wait as each test can take longer than expected. The thing I chose and loved was going to an “off-site” clinic that just does these types of tests, instead of having to go to the hospital. It was quick, easy and you can practically park in front of the door, which is great for a fast get-away.

Now one thing I never thought of, and the GI pointed out to me, is that as we age, our musculature atrophies and weakens. Since the entire length of the colon is muscular, then as it atrophies with age, it elongates and there can then be additional twists and turns in order for the colon to fit in the pelvic cavity. This is also why constipation is a typical condition with aging. Think of a worm when it’s alive and then when it’s dead. So keeping our musculature toned can really make a difference. When we’re talking about the colon, we’re talking about daily fiber and seasonal colonics. Colonic hydrotherapy, unlike an enema, uses water to create resistance to the peristaltic action of the colon, so it actually exercises the muscle reaction.

The results of my colonoscopy were that I have a very healthy colon, no polyps, some extra twists and turns, but no sign of any inflammatory issues. Thumbs up! Will I get another? Well I have 15 years to think about it.

Karen Clickner