Your age and certain risk factors may signal to your healthcare provider that it is time to perform a screening exam known as a colonoscopy. However, like many people, you may be hesitant to have this type of screening, which involves examining your large intestine, otherwise known as your rectum, and your colon. Because colonoscopy can help detect precancerous or cancerous tissue, getting comfortable with having this test is important.
Your healthcare provider at Altru can be a helpful advocate in this journey, offering you education about the exam and tips to make the screening a little less mysterious.
When Do You Need a Colonoscopy?
Colonoscopy screenings should begin for men and women at age 50, according to the American College of Gastroenterology. If you are in good health and have a 10-year life expectancy, these screenings should continue regularly until age 75. Between ages 76 to 85, the American Cancer Society recommends talking with your healthcare provider about whether these screenings should continue. When you are older than 85, a colonoscopy is no longer recommended.
If you are at heightened risk for colon cancer, your healthcare provider may recommend a colonoscopy sooner. The following factors indicate that you should have this type of screening when you are younger than 50:
- First-degree relative with precancerous polyp or colon cancer
- Personal history of colorectal cancer or polyps
- Personal history of Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
- Personal history of radiation to abdominal or pelvic area
Preparing for Your Colonoscopy
Before your colonoscopy, your healthcare provider will recommend a series of steps to ensure your body is ready for the test. These steps may include:
- Limit your menu to easily digestible, clear foods and clear liquids, such as broth, gelatin, ginger ale and sherbet starting one day before your appointment.
- Drink plenty of fluids so you are not dehydrated during bowel prep.
- Stop eating and drinking as instructed by your provider.
- Take bowel prep medication prescribed by your doctor. This medication will cause you to have frequent loose stools to ensure that your colon is completely empty for the colonoscopy.
You will also want to have a conversation with your doctor about which medications you can continue taking in the days and hours leading up to your colonoscopy. When your bowel is clean, it is much easier for your doctor to examine the colon and see polyps if any exist.
How Long Does a Colonoscopy Take?
Your colonoscopy will be held either at Altru’s Endoscopy Center or another Altru facility closer to your home and will take between 30 and 60 minutes from start to finish. During the test, you will be put under anesthesia. Your doctor will insert a lighted tube called a colonoscope through your anus and into your rectum and your colon. A tiny camera on the end of the tube gives your doctor a clear and detailed view of your large intestine.