Maybe you’ve heard a story that you’ll have to drink some kind of awful-tasting liquid, and then you’ll be in the bathroom all day and night. Maybe you’re afraid colonoscopy preparation will be so bad you’ll feel sick.
Whatever rumors you’ve heard, the truth is that colonoscopy preparation options have gotten much easier in recent years, thanks to lower-dose regimens and better-tasting prep liquids. Colonoscopy preparation is very important — a squeaky clean colon gives the doctor a clear view to be able to do their job best. It also helps the doctor find any polyps and remove them before they could become cancer. If the prep is not done properly, you may have to reschedule your colonoscopy.
Your colon has to be empty and clean for your doctor to get a proper look at it. To make that happen, you’ll have to fast and use strong laxatives beforehand. It’s inconvenient and somewhat unpleasant, but it’s temporary, and it might help save your life.
A doctor may recommend a colonoscopy to evaluate the colon for cancerous lesions, identify areas of bleeding, or diagnose other gut-related disorders.
Before the procedure, a doctor will prescribe a colonoscopy preparation. There are various approaches, but they all aim to empty the colon of fecal matter so that a doctor can view it clearly. The preparation may start up to a week before the colonoscopy.
The colonoscopy procedure involves inserting a thin scope with a light on the end into the rectum. The doctor will advance the scope through the colon to examine it.
Before your procedure, you must follow these instructions carefully. You will need to do a bowel preparation to empty your colon before your procedure. It’s very important that your colon is empty for your colonoscopy. If there’s stool (poop) inside your colon, your doctor may not be able to see polyps or other problems inside your colon and you may have to repeat the procedure. If you have any questions, contact your doctor’s office.
Colonoscopy Preparation: What You Should Do in Advance
Plan Your Prep
Your doctor is your best source of information about how to get ready. When you schedule the procedure, you’ll get instructions. Read them over well before your appointment, and call your doctor if you have any questions.
Clear your schedule for the evening before and the day of your colonoscopy, and make plans for someone to go with you the day of the colonoscopy.
Shop for some key supplies several days ahead, too. Your list may include:
- A prescription or over-the-counter laxative specified by your doctor
- Low-fiber food
- Sports drinks, juices, and broths
- Moist wipes
- Diaper cream
7 Days Before: Stock Up
Get a head start on your preparations and head to the store at least a week before your colonoscopy. Here’s what you’ll need:
Some doctors still prescribe laxative medication. Others recommend a combination of over-the-counter (OTC) products. Buy the products your doctor recommends, and if you have any questions, call your doctor’s office before the day you’re meant to prep.
Regular toilet paper may be too harsh after several trips to the bathroom. Look for moist or medicated wipes, or wipes with aloe and vitamin E. These products contain ingredients that can soothe irritated skin.
Before your prep starts, cover your rectum with a diaper cream like Desitin. Reapply throughout the prep. This will help prevent skin irritation from the diarrhea and wiping.
Approved foods and sports drinks
The week of your colonoscopy preparation, you’re going to eat foods that are easier to pass and less likely to cause constipation. Stock up on those now.
clear fruit juices
You’ll need at least 64 ounces of a drink to take your laxative, so plan accordingly. Sports drinks or light-colored, flavored beverages can help make taking the medication easier.
5 Days Before: Adjust Your Diet
At this time, you should start adjusting your diet to include foods that are easier to pass through your digestive system.
Switch to low-fiber foods at least five days before your exam. Some options include:
- white bread
- lean meats like chicken and fish
- well-cooked veggies without the skin
- fruit without skin or seeds.
Switching to a soft-food diet at least 48 hours before the colonoscopy may make your preparation easier. Soft foods include:
- scrambled eggs
- vegetable purees and soups
- soft fruits, like bananas
Foods to avoid
During this time, you also need to avoid foods that can be hard to digest or get in the way of the camera during your colonoscopy preparation. These include:
fatty, fried foods
seeds, nuts, and grains
fruit with seeds or skins
broccoli, cabbage, or lettuce
beans and peas
Ask your doctor whether you should continue to take any prescription medications during your prep or if you should stop until after the procedure. Be sure to also ask about any vitamins, supplements, or OTC medications you use daily.
Two Days Before
At this point, people should drink plenty of water or other liquids to ensure that they do not become dehydrated when they begin their bowel prep. Drinking around eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day can help reduce the risk of dehydration.
A doctor may also recommend avoiding red or orange foods at this point, as they could make a person’s colon look like it is bleeding.
24 Hours Before
It is crucial to consume only clear liquids in the 24 hours leading up to the colonoscopy preparation.
Examples of acceptable clear liquids include:
- clear broth or bouillon
- coffee or tea, but with no milk or creamer added
- electrolyte-containing beverages, such as sports drinks
- strained fruit juices without pulp
Here, get some tips on following a clear liquid diet.
In general, if it is possible to see through the food or drink, it should be acceptable within a clear liquid diet. However, a person should always consult their doctor if they have any questions about specific foods.
A doctor will often prescribe an oral solution to drink to help clean out the colon. This solution will cause the person to have frequent bowel movements until there is no fecal matter left in their colon. Examples of oral solutions includeTrusted Source GoLytely, Colyte, NuLytely, TriLyte, Suprep, and Clenpiq.
These solutions are likely to have different dosage methods. Sometimes, a doctor will prescribe drinking the entire solution the night before the colonoscopy preparation. Other times, they will recommend drinking one portion of the solution the night before and the remainder on the day of the examination.
The solution is intended to make a person go to the bathroom. Their bowel movements will turn into diarrhea.
The bowel prep can sometimes make a person feel nauseous, bloated, thirsty, or dizzy. If this occurs, the individual should give themselves a break of at least 30 minutes from drinking the prep and slowly sip on clear fluids. If they can tolerate returning to drinking the prep, they should.
With a doctor’s permission, a person potentially can add a powdered drink solution that is not red, blue, or purple to the prep to improve its taste.
During the bowel prep, a person may benefit from:
- staying near a bathroom so that they can go to the toilet easily
- wearing elastic-waist pants that are easier to pull down
- drinking clear liquids after swallowing the prep to remove the unpleasant taste
- applying petroleum jelly around the anal opening or using baby wipes to reduce irritation to the anus
- The bowel movements will eventually turn clear or yellow. This change signals that a person’s colon is likely to be clear of fecal matter.
In case of problems with constipation, a doctor may also recommend using a stool softener to make stools easier to pass.
2 Hours Before
Don’t drink anything — even water — two hours before your procedure. This step is important to help prevent you from getting sick after your procedure. People who drink right before the procedure risk getting sick and breathing vomit into their lungs. Some hospitals request a longer window without liquids, so follow their instructions.
Colonoscopy Preparation Tips
Preparing for a colonoscopy may be uncomfortable and time-consuming, but it needn’t be an ordeal. Here are some things you can do to help it go as smoothly and comfortably as possible:
- Make sure you receive your colonoscopy preparation instructions well before your procedure date and read them completely as soon as you get them. This is the time to call your clinician with any questions and to buy the bowel prep she or he has prescribed. Pick up some medicated wipes (for example, Tucks or adult wet wipes with aloe and vitamin E) and a skin-soothing product such as Vaseline or Desitin — you’re going to be experiencing high-volume, high-velocity diarrhea.
- Arrange for the time and privacy you need to complete the prep with as little stress as possible. Clear your schedule, and be at home on time to start your prep. If you have children or aging parents who need attention, have someone else be available to them while you’re indisposed.
- Water can get boring, so keep a variety of clear liquids on hand. On the day before your colonoscopy — when you’re restricted to clear liquids — you can have popsicles, Jell-O, clear broth, coffee or tea (without milk or creamer), soft drinks, Italian ice, or Gatorade. But take nothing with red, blue, or purple dye. Drink extra liquids before, during, and after your bowel prep (usually until a few hours before your procedure), as well as after your colonoscopy.
- To make a bad-tasting liquid prep like magnesium citrate easier to swallow, try one or more of the following if it doesn’t come flavored: add some Crystal Light or Kool-Aid powder (again, not red, blue, or purple); add some ginger or lime; drink it chilled; drink it through a straw placed far back on your tongue; hold your nose and drink it as quickly as possible; quickly suck on a lemon slice after you finish each glass; hold a lemon or lime under your nose while you drink; suck on a hard candy after each glass.
- Wear loose clothing and stay near the bathroom. Better yet, once the preparation starts to work, stay in the bathroom — because when the urge hits, it’s hard to hold back. Consider setting up shop near the toilet with music, your laptop, magazines, or books.
What To Expect
Once you arrive, you will be asked to state and spell your name and date of birth many times. This is for your safety. People with the same or similar names may be having procedures on the same day.
When it’s time to change for your procedure, you will get a hospital gown, robe, and nonskid socks to wear.
You will meet with your doctor before your procedure. They will explain the procedure to you and answer any questions you may have.
You will meet with your anesthesiologist. They will review your medical history with you and talk with you about the kind of anesthesia (medication to make you sleep) you will receive.
Once it’s time for your procedure, you will be brought into the procedure room and helped onto the exam table. You will lie on your left side with your knees bent.
Your anesthesiologist will place an intravenous (IV) line into a vein, usually in your arm or hand. You will get anesthesia through your IV, which will make you fall asleep. Once you’re asleep, your doctor will begin the procedure.
Your doctor will place a colonoscope into your rectum. The colonoscope is connected to a video monitor. This lets your doctor to see the inside of your colon. Your doctor will use air and fluid to move the colonoscope through your colon while looking for anything unusual on the video monitor.
The procedure usually takes less than 60 minutes (1 hour).
After Your Procedure
You will receive discharge instructions from your nurse after the procedure, including an after-visit summary with the results.
If tissue was removed, you will get a letter or phone call within 10 days of your procedure with those results.
There is a very small risk of bleeding after a colonoscopy for up to two weeks. You should be within a two-hour drive of a medical center for two weeks following your colonoscopy and avoid traveling outside of the United States during this time period.