Your colon, also called the large intestine, is the unsung hero of your digestive system. It absorbs moisture from the food you’ve eaten and breaks down food waste so it can pass out of your body. A healthy colon helps ensure waste doesn’t build up in your body and that your digestive system is functioning well. But if your colon isn’t at its top health, you can experience gas, pain or more serious conditions.
In order to make sure your colon is healthy, doctors use procedure called a colonoscopy. A colonoscopy is a test where we examine the inside of your colon with a thin tube with a camera (colonoscope) and check for colon conditions, including colon polyps and colon cancer. A colonoscopy helps us detect signs of colon cancer in its earliest stages, when it’s the most treatable. Colonoscopies have helped us remove thousands of precancerous colon polyps before cancer was able to develop.
The team at HealthPartners and Park Nicollet is ready to provide answers to all your questions about colonoscopies and help you feel prepared for the procedure. Our gastroenterologists, general surgeons and others perform thousands of colonoscopies a year. We know how to keep patients comfortable while getting the most accurate test results possible. And with many locations throughout Minnesota and western Wisconsin, you can book an appointment near you.
A colonoscopy uses a thin tube with a camera on the end (colonoscope) to examine the inside of your colon. We’ll give you medicine to help you relax and feel comfortable during the procedure.
During a colonoscopy, we’ll ask you to lie on a table so we can examine your colon with a colonoscope. Your doctor will examine the length of your colon, looking for any polyps, blood, ulcers or other abnormalities. If we see a polyp, we may remove the polyp during your colonoscopy or take a small tissue sample to biopsy.
Some patients experience mild discomfort during a colonoscopy. It can feel like stomach cramps or like you need to have a bowel movement. We’ll guide you through the procedure to help you relax and feel as comfortable as possible.
Depending on your needs, your doctor may recommend a screening colonoscopy or a diagnostic colonoscopy. These procedures are the same, but they’re used for different reasons.
Most colonoscopies are screening colonoscopies, and they’re most often used as for colon cancer screenings. This is a preventive procedure used to check your colon to make sure there aren’t any signs of an underlying condition. Patients get screening colonoscopies when they don’t have any symptoms of colon conditions.
Your primary care doctor might recommend a screening colonoscopy if:
- You’re 45 or older
- A direct family member, like one of your parents, has a history of colon cancer
- You have a personal history of colon cancer or colon polyps
If you have symptoms of colon cancer or another colon condition, a diagnostic colonoscopy might be used. During a diagnostic colonoscopy, we’ll look for the cause of your symptoms and diagnose your condition. Beyond cancer, other conditions colonoscopies can detect include ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
A diagnostic colonoscopy might be recommended if you have:
- Unexplained abdominal pain
- Rectal bleeding or blood in your stool
- A significant change in your bowel movements
It’s important to properly prepare for a colonoscopy in order for doctors to accurately check your colon for any signs of illnesses. Colonoscopy preparation helps clean your colon so any polyps or abnormalities will be clearly visible.
Your doctor will give you detailed prep instructions before your appointment, but here is what you can commonly expect:
One or two days before your colonoscopy, you’ll stop eating solid food and drinking colored drinks. You are encouraged to drink clear liquids, like clear broth, teas, water, Gatorade and Jell-O. The instructions we’ll give you will have a specific time at which you’ll need to stop drinking anything.
Don’t eat or drink any red or purple foods for two days leading up to your colonoscopy. The coloring in these foods can make it difficult for your doctor to properly examine your colon.
When you schedule your colonoscopy, we’ll give you specific instructions about the medicine you’ll need to take before your exam. It’s important to follow these instructions specifically so we can perform the procedure. If you haven’t properly prepared for your appointment, we may not be able to do your colonoscopy as scheduled.
We’ll likely ask you to drink a medicine that helps clear out your colon. These medicines are typically laxatives that you mix with water and drink over a couple hours. Usually, you’ll drink this the day before your colonoscopy.
Some people find the taste of these medicines to be unpleasant. Chilling the liquid or drinking it through a straw to avoid your taste buds can help it go down easier.
Less common medicines might be used, like pills or a meal kit, depending on your unique needs.
This medicine will make you frequently use the bathroom. Make sure that you stay home, near a bathroom, after you take the laxatives.
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Most people should start getting screening colonoscopies at age 45. Then, you’ll likely get a colonoscopy every ten years. If you have a higher risk of developing colon cancer, you might start getting regular colonoscopies around age 40. Your doctor will let you know when and how often you should have a colonoscopy.
People who are at a higher risk of developing colon cancer include:
- Black and African American people
- Native Americans and Alaskan Natives
- Men, especially age 60 or older
- Those with a family history of colon cancer
- Those who are obese
- Those who have diabetes
If you have symptoms of colon cancer, your doctor may recommend a diagnostic colonoscopy. Early symptoms of colon cancer include a sudden change in your bowel movements, unexplained weight loss, blood in your stool, general abdominal discomfort, chronic fatigue, and a feeling that your bowels don’t completely empty after a bowel movement.
Most patients are awake during the procedure. We use medicines during your colonoscopy to keep you as comfortable as possible. The medicine is administered with an IV and it helps you relax. Some patients fall asleep during their procedure because they are so relaxed, but the medicine doesn’t make you fall asleep.
If you’re very concerned about this procedure, please let us know. Your doctor will talk to you about other anesthetic options that may be available to you.
No. We require an adult to drive you to and from your appointment. The medicines used during your colonoscopy may slow your reflexes and cloud your thoughts for the rest of the day, which can make driving dangerous. If you don’t have an adult to drive you, we’ll cancel your appointment.
Do not take the bus, use a ride share, take a cab or ride a motorcycle. If you need help organizing a ride, we offer a ride share at some of our locations. You can learn more and schedule a ride with our safe, affordable ride service by calling 651-254-3250.
We accept most health insurance plans, including Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, CIGNA, HealthPartners, Medica, Medicare, PreferredOne and many others.
Not sure what your insurance covers? Call the number on the back of your card for help looking at your options.
Don’t have your card in front of you? Here are member services numbers to help you get started:
- HealthPartners: 800-883-2177
- Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota: 800-382-2000
- CIGNA: 800-244-6224 (insurance through work); 866-494-2111 (insurance directly or through the Exchange)
- Medica: 800-952-3455
- Medicare: 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227)
- PreferredOne: 763-847-4477 (in the Twin Cities); 800-997-1750 (outside the metro area)
- United Healthcare: 877-842-3210