What is colonoscopy?

A colonoscopy is a test which allows the doctor to look directly at the lining of the large bowel (colon); designed to diagnose problems with the large intestine.

It involves the insertion of a thin, flexible telescope through your anus and into the large intestine, where the lining of the bowel can be observed by a consultant. The colonoscope has fibre optic channels to allow light to shine down as well as a channel that can be used to take biopsies of the large intestine for diagnostic purposes.  For flexible sigmoidoscopy, only the first third of the bowel will be examined.

A colonoscopy can be used to diagnose various forms of inflammatory bowel disease, polyps of the colon, and potentially cancerous growths.

Why has my doctor chosen a colonoscopy?

This is the only test that allows the doctor to view the lining of the bowel, to assess the likely cause of the symptoms you have been experiencing. The doctor may, during this test, take a small sample of tissue - ”a biopsy” for analysis. The tissue is removed painlessly through the colonoscope using tiny forceps.

This is the only test where it would be possible to remove polyps should any be found. Polyps are raised fleshy areas on the lining of the bowel caused by an abnormal multiplication of cells. Removal of the polyp is a good way of reducing the risk of bowel cancer.

Are there any risks with a colonoscopy?

There is a small risk of tearing or perforating the bowel. This happens in approximately 1 in 2000 colonoscopies. If this were to happen it would require your admission to hospital and in some cases it might need to be treated with an
operation. One possible outcome of this surgery would be a colostomy or bag on the abdominal wall.

Following the removal of a polyp, bleeding can occur in approximately 1 in 100  cases and would again require immediate admission to hospital.

Other complications are as a result of the sedative drugs used.

Colonoscopy recovery time

A colonoscopy is a routine test that can be performed on an outpatient basis, usually under sedation. Patients should be ready to go home an hour after the procedure, although if sedation has been used then driving, operating machinery or drinking alcohol should be avoided for 24 hours.


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