Healthcare professional holding a medical device

5 things to know before your first colonoscopy

Published 04 July 2024

I don’t think there is anyone who enjoys the thought of having a colonoscopy, they can feel invasive, scary and overwhelming. As an IBD sufferer myself I know all to well the struggles that people face when being told they are having this procedure but hopefully by the end of this you’ll feel slightly more at ease.


Jessica Raeside | Supporter Engagement Assistant, Crohn's & Colitis UK

Diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis in February 2020

 


So first of all, what is a colonoscopy?

A colonoscopy is sometimes referred to as a direct visualization test as it allows the doctor to get a live picture of what is going on inside your bowel. Usually, it is where a thin and flexible tube called a colonoscope is inserted into the colon through the rectum. The colonoscope has a light and digital camera attached to the end which allows doctors to see live footage of any inflammation and abnormalities, through the cecum (where your colon begins and the small bowel ends). During a colonoscopy, the doctor may take photographs, samples and biopsies for reference or to investigate further. This procedure is usually an important part of both getting an IBD diagnosis and treatment maintenance.

Even with the benefits, getting a colonoscopy can still seems scary and is certainly not the nicest way to spend an afternoon but I have come up with 5 ways, that I hope will make the experience easier for you.

Tip number 1 – Read your paperwork carefully

It seems logical, but even those who have has multiple procedures can get it wrong and sometimes things change so it is important to read the paperwork carefully for each procedure.

You will receive a letter from your healthcare provider advising you on when your appointment is, however some will book your appointment over the telephone. Alongside this you should received another letter that includes information around your procedure. This information is important as it will tell you:

  • When to stop eating and drinking
  • The special diet to follow the days prior to your appointment
  • Information on “bowel prep” itself and how and where to collect it
  • How to take the preparation, if you are having it, and how to take it

Although it can seem like a lot to take in and potentially feel overwhelming it is also good to be informed and knowledgeable.

Tip number 2 – Be prepared for Prep

As the name suggests bowel preparation (prep) is a process of emptying and cleaning out the large intestine to ensure that the doctor gets the most accurate picture of your colon, while reducing your risk of infection. There is a lot of fear around bowel preparation and there doesn’t have to be. Sadly, emptying the large intestine can see you spend quite a considerable amount of time in the bathroom and can be unpleasant. There are a variety of different types of prep available, including sachets of solution to drink, tablets or enemas and you should discuss this with the nurses when your appointment is booked which would be the best for you. My advice for bowel prep is to be somewhere you feel comfortable, as once you take it can take a while for your bowel to be fully cleaned and you will probably be going to the bathroom frequently often sometimes for several hours on and off.

Some little tips from members of the Crohn’s and Colitis UK Forum to help with bowel prep are:

  • Drink it through a straw it can make it more manageable
  • Mix it up and pop it in the fridge before you drink it as it tastes better cold or mix with acceptable liquids
  • Treat yourself to some toilet wipes or good quality toilet roll as you may use a lot
  • Find something to pass the time whilst on the toilet if you can
  • Soothing cream may reduce irritation from going to the toilet frequently

Tip 3 – Gas and Air vs Sedation

In most places you are given a choice as to whether you would like to have the procedure under sedation or with gas and air. The answer to this question is there is no right answer. You should do whatever makes you feel the most comfortable and allows you to feel in control. With either option you may feel some discomfort in your procedure but ultimately it is your choice which you chose. Your healthcare professional should be able to advise you of what each one entails and what each choice could mean for you.

Tip 4 – Don’t be afraid to ask questions

A nurse told me at my first colonoscopy that “no question is a silly question” and this is so true especially when it comes to something that is going to be happening to you. At any part of the process of going for a procedure, from the moment it is first discussed up until the day it is booked for and even potentially while you are having the procedure done, feel free to ask any questions that you may have related to it. Remember being informed helps you to put your mind at ease and keeps you relaxed. It is also important to remember that these professionals carry out this procedure regularly so even if you feel as though your question is silly they wont and have probably heard it before!

Tip 5 – Relax and Recover

Although it may feel easier said than done, this is important throughout the process from the build-up, to during and after the procedure. Once you have finished your procedure, make sure to fully rest and recover. You will probably feel hungry and thirsty and you can usually go back to eating a normal diet. However, It is normal to feel gassy and bloated after the procedure. You will have been given details on your recovering with things to expect and what is not normal, if you are in any doubt contact your doctor. My top tip is if you are able to have a relaxing bath or shower, put on some comfy clothes and do a relaxing activity that you enjoy.

Ultimately, being prepared for a procedure is the most important thing. Doctors and nurses will understand your nerves and will usually try to alleviate as many of your worries as possible. Just remember it is ok to be worried, try to focus on the positives and remember in the long run your colon’s health is so important.

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