It’s colonoscopy time! While you may not think that’s cause for celebration, it sort of is. You’re taking an important step to protect your health.

But before the procedure comes colonoscopy prep – the part you may be most nervous about. It’s true that preparing for a colonoscopy is no one’s idea of a good time. But the good news is that it goes by quickly, and there are ways to make the process easier.

Read on to learn why you need to do a pre-colonoscopy cleanse and how to have the best prep possible.

First things first: Why is colonoscopy prep needed?

Why do you need to prepare your body for a colonoscopy, anyway? The answer is a little gross but here it is: If there’s poop in your colon, your doctor won’t be able to see what’s going on inside of you.

The colonoscopy prep process helps clean your colon so your doctor has a clear view of your colon lining. This allows them to see if there are polyps, which are small growths on the lining that can turn into colon cancer. They’ll also be able to see if your intestinal wall is inflamed or swollen or has sores – signs that you may have a digestive condition.

How long does colonoscopy prep take?

Typically, you’ll start to make changes about a week before the procedure. At first the changes will be small, but they’ll get bigger as you move closer to your procedure.

Colonoscopy prep timeline

How you prepare for a colonoscopy may be different based on the specific instructions you get from your doctor, but in general, this is what you can expect:

Seven days before

  • Your doctor may ask you to stop taking medications such as anticoagulation and antiplatelet medications.
  • Your doctor may also have specific instructions if you take insulin for diabetes, have heart valve disease or have had heart valve replacement. So, it’s important to talk to your doctor about how your health conditions and medications may impact colonoscopy prep.
  • Stop taking multivitamins or other medications with iron.

Three days before

  • Switch to a low-fiber diet for your colonoscopy. If you take a fiber supplement, stop that as well.

Two days before

  • Continue with low-fiber foods.
  • Drink at least eight glasses of water a day.
  • Don’t have any alcoholic beverages.

One day before

  • For most preparations, the day before your procedure is when you’ll start fasting. This means no more solid foods and switching to a clear liquid diet.
  • Drink the colonoscopy prep liquids for the day – drinking a glass every 10 minutes until it’s all gone.
  • This is when you can expect the diarrhea to begin. Continue to drink a lot of clear liquids.

How long will diarrhea last during colonoscopy prep?

The diarrhea will last until your bowels are cleared out. How long this takes depends on several factors, including how much stool you have in your colon and how quickly the medications work for you.

Day of procedure

  • Following the instructions your doctor provides, drink more prep liquids or other laxatives. This usually happens about four hours before the procedure.
  • Continue your clear liquid diet.
  • Stop drinking three hours before your procedure.
  • Pay attention to the color of your poop. If it’s clear or yellow liquid, that means your colon is cleared out. If it isn’t, call your doctor to see what you should do.

How to make colonoscopy prep easier

Follow your colonoscopy prep instructions

When you schedule your colonoscopy, your doctor will give you specific instructions about how to prepare for your procedure, including which medicines you’ll take, when to start, and what to eat and drink.

You and your doctor can work together to determine which prep method to use. For example, different liquid bowel cleansers can have different tastes, require you to drink different amounts and vary in cost. Or if you have certain pre-existing conditions like heart or kidney failure, your doctor will recommend a process that helps avoid dangerous shifts in electrolytes.

But it’s important to follow the instructions that are given so that you’re ready for your appointment. If your colon isn’t cleaned out before the procedure, your doctor may not be able to start the colonoscopy, or the procedure may not be successful. In this case, you may need another colonoscopy and have to go through the prep work again.

What kind of colonoscopy prep medicines are there?

There are many colonoscopy prep medicines that can be used to clean out your colon, but most are powder laxatives you mix with liquid. The biggest differences between bowel prep products are how much prep liquid you must drink, the taste of the liquid and the price.

Additionally, some of the medicines are by prescription only, while others can be purchased at a grocery store or pharmacy. Here are some of the most common prep medicines:

  • GoLYTELY or NuLYTELY – These prescription medicines work well to clean things out, so doctors often recommend them. But with these options, you have to drink the most prep fluids – three liters. Some people also aren’t fans of the taste when doing colonoscopy prep with GoLYTELY or NuLYTELY.
  • MiraLAXMiraLAX colonoscopy prep is an over-the-counter product that is mixed with a sports drink like Gatorade or Powerade. With this prep, you can choose your own flavors of the prep liquid and only need two liters of it.
  • PLENVU, SUPREP and MoviPrep – These all work a little differently, but all cut the amount of prep fluids down to one liter. However, they tend to cost more, so colonoscopy prep with PLENVU, SUPREP or MoviPrep isn’t recommended as frequently.

If you’re concerned about the amount you’ll have to drink or the cost of medication, ask your doctor about your options.

The best colonoscopy prep diet

What foods can you eat before a colonoscopy?

Before switching to a clear liquid diet, there will be a couple days when you’ll need to eat a low-fiber diet (also called a low residue diet). While fiber is one of the superstars in a colon heathy diet, all that fiber can get stuck in the nooks and crannies of your colon. A low-fiber diet doesn’t leave a lot of residue behind.

Here are some things to include in your low-fiber and low-residue diet for a colonoscopy:

  • White bread, pasta and rice (aim for less than 0.5 gram of fiber per serving)
  • Dairy products
  • Lower-fiber fruits, including bananas, melons and applesauce
  • Fruit juice without pulp
  • Well-cooked or canned vegetables without seeds
  • Well-cooked meats and fish
  • Eggs
  • Tofu
  • Creamy peanut butter

What can you drink before a colonoscopy?

Besides the colonoscopy prep liquid, you will want to follow a clear liquid diet for your colonoscopy.

Here’s a piece of good news: Clear liquid doesn’t mean colorless. Instead, these liquids look like colored water that you can see through.

However, make sure to steer clear of purple and red drinks as the coloring in these beverages can make it difficult for your doctor to properly examine your colon. Consider the following as part of your clear liquid diet:

  • Water
  • Clear broth
  • Tea
  • Apple or white grape juice
  • Gatorade or Powerade
  • Clear soda
  • Coffee without cream
  • Jell-O

Make colonoscopy prep medicines easier to swallow

For many people, drinking all the colonoscopy prep fluids can be a challenge. But finishing your prep fluids can be easier if you follow these tips:

  • Drink the solution quickly – The less time it’s in your mouth, the less you have to taste it. Try drinking through a straw and swallowing quickly.
  • Keep the prep liquid cold – Just don’t add ice since ice-cold liquids aren’t digested as quickly.
  • Add flavoring, if you can – Depending on the prep medicines you’re using, you may be able to add additional flavoring. For example, if you’re using GoLYTELY, you can add lemonade drink mix, such as Crystal Light, to every glass.
  • Keep hard candies and lemons on hand – Suck on a lemon or hard candy between glasses to get rid of the flavor.
  • Take a break if you need one – If you experience nausea or vomiting when drinking the solution, rinse your mouth with water and give yourself a short 15- or 30-minute break before continuing.

Take steps to make the process more comfortable

If there was ever a time to be kind to yourself, this is it. Maybe you can even find something to look forward to – like having time to read that book that’s been sitting on your nightstand forever. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

  • Dress in comfy and cozy clothing – You’ll want to be able to pull things off quickly. Plus, the prep medicines can cause chills.
  • Turn your bathroom into an entertainment center – You’ll be in there a lot. So have something such as a book or podcast to keep yourself occupied during all that toilet time.
  • Prep your bottom – Your bottom may get irritated. Consider applying diaper cream before the diarrhea starts. Using moist or medicated wipes can also help with the discomfort.

Prepare for the best

We know that you’re probably not thrilled about getting a colonoscopy and going through all the prep work. But you should be very proud of taking steps to better understand your health.

To make sure you have a successful procedure, follow your colonoscopy prep instructions as closely as possible. This will help ensure your colon is clean and your doctor is able to see everything they need to. If you have questions about the procedure or the prep, don’t hesitate to call the clinic where you’re having your procedure.