How to make your colonoscopy preparation more effective and less unpleasant

Colon cancer is the third major cause of cancer deaths among men and women in the United States and the second most common cancer cause of death worldwide. But there is good news: it is also one of the most preventable cancers. This is partly due to colonoscopies, a procedure in which doctors use a probe to examine your large intestine. A colonoscopy is considered the best way to screen for colon cancer because it allows doctors to remove polyps (small growths in the colon) before they potentially become cancerous. It can also help doctors diagnose colon cancer as well as other conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended adults aged 45 to 75 are screened for colorectal cancer. Most people need one every 10 years, but you may need to get one sooner if you have a higher risk of colon cancer. For example, if you have chronic bowel disease, a family history of colon polyps, or a family history of colon cancer, you may need your first screening colonoscopy before age 45. Dr. Heather Sharkey, clinical assistant professor at the University of New England, told Yahoo Life. Depending on the result, including if polyps are detected, the next colonoscopy would be performed in five years or less, she adds.

A colonoscopy rarely causes pain, Dr. Lance Uradomo, interventional gastroenterologist at City of Hope Orange County Lennar Foundation Cancer Center, told Yahoo Life. “It is generally a painless exam and usually takes less than 30 minutes,” he adds.

However, preparing for a colonoscopy is a different story. You may need to drink plenty of fluids, spend a lot of time in the bathroom, and temporarily change your diet. Otherwise, your doctors won’t see your colon properly and you may have to start all over again. And no one wants that.

Fortunately, there are several ways to make your preparation more efficient and less unpleasant. Here’s what experts recommend for better, easier colonoscopy preparation.

Traditionally, preparing for a colonoscopy involves drinking a large amount of fluids (an oral laxative formula) to help cleanse your colon. Now there are other options that help you achieve the same effect, such as low volume preparations and tablets. And it may also be possible to take your preparatory drink over two days instead of taking it all at once. Ask your healthcare team about the options so you can get the one that’s best for you.

If you have had a bad experience with any of the bowel preparation medications in the past, tell your healthcare team. They might be able to recommend something else.

You should also let them know if you have constipation. “If you have uncontrolled constipation, it may be helpful to discuss this with your doctor in advance.” Dr. Rachel Schiesser, a gastroenterologist at Houston Methodist Hospital, tells Yahoo Life. “Bowel preparation for constipation can lead to inadequate emptying, as well as symptoms like cramping, bloating, and nausea,” she says.

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