Benefits of colonoscopies: Here’s why they’re not so bad!
by Erin Coleman RD LD
The benefits of colonoscopies may seem small compared to the big feeling of anxiety you may experience when you’re due for one. However it’s not so bad to get a colonoscopy. Getting one could even save your life. So if your doctor has prescribed the procedure especially if you have a family history of colon cancer don’t put it off.
Benefits of colonoscopies
The main benefit of getting a colonoscopy is that it helps detect early signs of cancer and allows your doctor to remove polyps which over time can become cancerous. The National Cancer Institute notes that colorectal cancer is the third most common form of cancer among U.S. men and women. Colonoscopies also help shed light on symptoms such as abdominal pain anal bleeding unintentional weight loss and changes in bowel activity notes the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
When your doctor performs a colonoscopy she inserts a long thin tube which contains a small scope with a tiny camera and light attached to the end of it to check your colon and rectum for abnormal tissue. She’ll be looking for inflamed tissue abnormal growths called polyps and ulcers during the procedure. If polyps are found the doctor can usually remove them during the procedure.
When should you get a colonoscopy?
MedlinePlus suggests that you begin routine colonoscopies at age 50 but your doctor may recommend having one sooner if you have certain risk factors for colon cancer — such as a family history of polyps or cancer a history of Chron’s disease ulcerative colitis or other inflammatory bowel disease or if you’re overweight or a smoker. The American Cancer Society recommends getting a colonoscopy every 10 years after your initial procedure but you should be screened more frequently if you have any of the risk factors. Your doctor can let you know how often you should have one.
Your doctor will give you instructions so you know how to properly prepare for your colonoscopy. You’ll likely have to follow a clear liquid diet for one to three days before the procedure and reduce your fiber intake three days ahead of time. Your doctor will tell you how to take a bowel prep which usually consists of combinations of laxatives that empty your bowels. Plan to be drinking this prep the day before and/or the day of your colonoscopy depending on the time it is scheduled as directed by your doctor. Frequent diarrhea is a common result of taking the bowel prep which serves to clean out your system.
What to expect at your visit
The entire colonoscopy visit may take three to four hours. Your doctor will give you medicine to help you relax and feel comfortable during the procedure. In fact this medicine often makes you sleep right through it! The colonoscopy itself generally takes about 30 to 60 minutes but recovery time may be an additional hour or so. You’ll generally learn right afterward if any polyps were detected and they most likely will have been removed so you won’t need to schedule another visit. Plan to arrange for a friend or family member to drive you home as this is required.
Risks of skipping colonoscopies
Skipping a colonoscopy — especially if you have a family history of colon cancer — increases your risk of having cancer spread to a stage where it’s not easily treatable. Getting colonoscopies when you’re supposed to is the most effective colon cancer prevention strategy you can take.
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