The Colonoscopy Procedure: An Overview

A colonoscopy is a procedure that lets your physician look inside your entire large intestine, from the lowest part, the rectum, all the way up through the colon to the lower end of the small intestine. During a colonoscopy procedure, your doctor will use a colonoscope. The colonoscope is a long, soft, bendable tube. This instrument acts as a camera, and allows your doctor to view the inside of your digestive system on a video screen. It can also take pictures and videotape the procedure.

Preparing for the Procedure

Once you and your doctor are ready, you will be given medications, and sometimes fluid, through your IV to help relax and comfort you during the procedure. You will be asked to lie on your left side and bring your knees toward your chest.

What to Expect During the Procedure

Once you are comfortable in the proper position, your doctor will begin by performing a gentle finger examination of your rectum wearing a clean, lubricated glove. Then the flexible endoscope will be lubricated and placed inside. You will feel a little pressure when this happens. The endoscope is then carefully moved up through your rectum and colon. To see this area better, your colon may be gently filled with a small quantity of air or water through the endoscope. This might cause you to feel full or bloated. This discomfort is usually brief and goes away when the air is withdrawn. To help guide the endoscope, healthcare providers might gently press on your abdomen or have you change position to your back or your right side for a short time during the procedure.

Biopsy and Polyp Removal

Depending on what your doctor finds, other procedures may be performed through the endoscope. These might include taking a biopsy or removing a polyp. These procedures are painless. There are many ways that a polyp can be removed, and the choice is related to size and shape. Your doctor will choose the technique that is best for you. One option is to use a wire snare device to grasp the polyp, and then remove it with electrical current. After the polyp is removed, it is passed through the endoscope and sent to the laboratory for examination. After any treatments are finished, the doctor will slowly pull out the endoscope tube through your rectum.

Length of the Procedure

A colonoscopy will usually take 30 to 60 minutes, depending on what is found and if any additional procedures are performed.