A colonoscopy checks your large intestine, also called the colon, for abnormal growths or other problems. The test is done with a narrow, flexible tube that has a light and camera. The tube is put in through your rectum and into your colon. The test helps your doctor diagnose illnesses and make plans for treatment if needed.

Your doctor may recommend a colonoscopy:
  • To look for early signs of cancer in the colon and rectum. It may be part of a routine screening, which usually starts at age 50.
  • To look for causes of unexplained changes in bowel habits
  • To evaluate symptoms like abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, and weight loss

Your doctor can also remove polyps from your colon during a colonoscopy.

Ask your primary care provider about having a colonoscopy if you’re over age 50 or have a bowel condition.

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Colonoscopy preparation

Detailed preparation instructions will be provided upon scheduling your colonoscopy. You need to be on a clear liquid diet for 1 to 3 days before the colonoscopy.

What to Expect

Plan to arrive at the arrival time on your letter so the staff can get you ready. Expect to be here about 3 hours for your test and recovery time. The test takes 20-40 minutes. After you have registered, you will change into a hospital gown. To protect your privacy, and the privacy of other patients, family members and friends are not permitted in the procedure areas. 

A nurse will review your medicine list and medical history. An intravenous (IV) line will be placed to give you medicine during the test. Let the nurse know right away if you have had problems having an IV placed in the past. When the nurse has you ready, you will be taken to a private room where your test will be done. You will be given a consent form to read over. The doctor will talk to you and go over the consent form. Ask any questions you have about the test before you sign the form. You will be given medicines in your IV to help you relax. You will likely rest on your left side. The doctor slowly moves the tube through your colon. You may feel some cramping during and after the test that will improve after passing gas.

After the Test

You will be taken to a recovery area for 30 to 45 minutes. You will then change back into your clothes. The doctor will speak with you and your family member before you leave. Plan to take the day off of work and rest at home after the test.

The medicine given during the test can cause you to have memory changes and impair your judgment. Do not drive a motorized vehicle or operate heavy machinery. Do not sign any papers or make any legal decisions.

What to expect and why you need a colonoscopy

Sheryl Pfeil, MD, a gastroenterologist at Ohio State, explains colonoscopy, the routine screening test used to detect any issues within the colon. Much like a mammogram, the colonoscopy is an important screening tool that can help keep you in good health.

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