A colonoscopy is a very common medical procedure. Most people who have had a colonoscopy would agree that the preparation is the worst part, since during the procedure, in most cases patients are given a light sedative and possibly pain medication to keep relaxed and pain free. The preparation for a colonoscopy is usually done at home, and can sometimes be quite challenging. It is always best to speak to your Doctor or Advantage Pharmacist if you have any concerns regarding the preparation for you colonoscopy.

A colonoscopy is a procedure that your Doctor may request to examine the inside of your colon (also known as your large bowel or large intestine). During a colonoscopy, a long tube with a camera lens and light at one end, known as a colonscope, is inserted into your anus and is carefully guided in various directions to look inside your colon. The picture from the camera appears on a television monitor to provide a clear, magnified view of your colon lining. Your Doctor may order a colonoscopy to investigate many different diseases of the colon and also to help diagnose symptoms that you may be experiencing. 

Generally your Doctor will recommend a colonoscopy if:

  • You have noticed blood in your stool, or coming from your rectum or anus, or a special test has revealed that there is blood in your stool;
  • You have had unexplained abdominal pain, anaemia or other symptoms your Doctor feels that further investigation is needed;
  • You have had a significant change in your bowel habit;
  • You have a strong family history (an immediate family member) of bowel cancer;
  • You are over 50 and require a routine precautionary screening for bowel cancer.

How to prepare for a colonoscopy

In order for your Doctor to get the best possible view and make the colonoscopy easier, your large bowel needs to be cleaned out of all waste material. Your Doctor should provide you with written instructions on how to prepare for your procedure. You may either be given or need to purchase specific laxatives to prepare for your colonoscopy (as written in your instructions). If you have not been supplied with these laxatives, take your instructions to your local Advantage Pharmacy and they can provide you with advice and the laxatives you will require.

In most cases, the preparation for a colonoscopy involves a special diet for a day or two, consisting of no solid food, lots of clear fluids and taking the laxatives at specific times the day before the procedure. It is important that you have nothing to eat or drink six hours before the procedure is done; however you may have sips of water with your regular medications if required. 

Your Doctor may have advised you to stop the following medications at least one week before your procedure: iron tablets, aspirin and blood thinning agents such as clopidogrel (e.g. Plavix, Iscover) and warfarin. 


Your colonoscopy procedure usually takes between 30 to 60 minutes, in most cases. Driving is not permitted for 24 hours after the colonoscopy to allow your sedative time to wear off. Prior to your procedure, you should make arrangements for someone to drive you home after your colonoscopy.

About one hour after your procedure you may be offered a drink or something light to eat. Some people may experience mild cramping or bloating during the first hour. Any of these symptoms should completely resolve within a couple of days. It is best that you avoid alcohol for several days after your procedure, or as advised by your Doctor.

After you have been discharged, you will need to see your Doctor again to discuss the results of your colonoscopy. According to your diagnosis, your Doctor will then discuss the relevant treatment.

Possible complications

Colonoscopy is a safe procedure and serious complications are rare. However, as with any procedure there are always some risks which include the following:

  • Colonoscopy is considered to be the most accurate test of the colon. However there is a risk that an abnormality may not be detected.
  • Intolerance of the bowel preparation may produce symptoms of dizziness, headaches or vomiting in some people.
  • A reaction to the sedatives or anaesthetics used during the procedure is very uncommon. However, it is of concern in people who have severe heart disease or lung disease.
  • Rare complications during the procedure could include bowel damage or tears and major bleeding from the bowel. Death is a very remote possibility.

Contact your Doctor if you have any of the following symptoms in the hours or days after your colonoscopy: severe abdominal pain, black tarry motions, persistent bleeding from the back passage, fever or any other symptoms that are causing you concern.


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