What is a colonoscopy?
The colon (large bowel) is the last section of your digestive tract. It is approximately 1.5 meters long and ends at the anus. The main role of the colon is to store any unabsorbed food and recycle water from the stool before your body eliminates it as faeces.
A colonoscopy is a quick and usually painless medical procedure that allows your surgeon to examine your colon. During the procedure your doctor will use a colonoscope (a long thin, flexible tube containing a light and a camera) to examine the entire inner lining of your bowel and rectum.
Why do I need a colonoscopy?
There are several reasons why your doctor may recommend having a colonoscopy. It is often used to look for signs of colon polyps, inflammation, or bowel cancer. Typically, a colonoscopy is performed to find the cause of symptoms such as:
- Unexplained abdominal pain
- Rectal bleeding
- Mucus or pus in stools
- Unexplained changes in bowel habits
- Blood in stools
- Positive family history of bowel cancer
What happens during a colonoscopy?
Before a colonoscopy can be performed your bowel needs to be completely emptied. Your surgeon will provide you with information about how to best prepare for the procedure. Typically, patients are asked to consume a preparation solution that cleans out the bowels. The day before surgery you will be instructed to not eat anything, and instead stick to clear fluids such as broth, water, and clear fluids.
Before the colonoscopy, an intravenous line will be placed into the back of your hand and you will receive medications that make you feel relaxed and drowsy. This will ensure that you don’t feel any pain and that you will have no recollection of the procedure.
After this, you will be placed on your left side with your knees tucked up near your chest. Your surgeon will insert the colonoscope and use carbon dioxide gas to help the colonoscope pass. Once the colonoscope reaches the beginning of your colon, your surgeon will gently withdraw it while taking a careful look at the colon’s lining. Photos and biopsies may be taken using the tiny camera and biopsy channel, respectively, inside the colonoscope.
The procedure usually takes 30 minutes.
Risks and potential complications of a colonoscopy
A colonoscopy is a safe procedure and generally poses very few risks. Occasionally, the following risks and complications can arise:
- Adverse reaction to the sedative
- Bleeding from the site where a tissue sample is taken
- Bleeding from the site where a polyp or other abnormal tissue was removed
- A tear in the colon or rectum (< 1 in 1000 cases)
What is the cost of a colonoscopy?
A colonoscopy is an elective procedure that in Australia is currently performed mainly in clinics and hospitals. Medicare provide a rebate but there may be a gap you will need to pay. A portion of the cost for your colonoscopy may be covered by your private health insurance and you should discuss this with your provider.
Please contact the Sydney GI Surgery team to discuss your needs and for an accurate assessment of the cost involved.
Recovery from a colonoscopy
After your colonoscopy you will go into a recovery area. Once you are fully awake (usually within the hour) you will be offered a drink and something light to eat. Most people can go home after a few hours. It’s important that you follow your doctor’s instructions around taking care of yourself at home. Generally, in the first 24 hours after your endoscopy you should:
- Avoid driving as the medications will still have a sedative effect
- Avoid consuming alcohol as it can interact with your medication
- Avoid working or signing financial agreements
- Follow any dietary suggestions made by your doctor.