4 things to know before your first colonoscopy

4 things to know before your first colonoscopy

If you’ve never had a colonoscopy before, maybe you’ve heard some things about them. And maybe you don’t like what you’ve heard.

Dr. Andrew Albert, a gastroenterologist based at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center, has heard all the misconceptions, especially from people who are worried about getting their first colonoscopy.

“It’s never as bad as people think,” Dr. Albert says. “Colonocopies are simple, and not enough people hear the most important point, which is that they save lives.”

He suggests four things people should know before getting their first colonoscopy.

  • This simple procedure can save your life. Colorectal cancer is the third-leading type of cancer in the U.S., excluding some skin cancers, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. The good news is that it’s preventable. Screenings like colonoscopies can find polyps before they turn into cancer.
  • The procedure doesn’t last long. It takes some preparation, but the procedure is relatively brief.
  • A colonoscopy doesn’t cause pain or discomfort. It’s a safe procedure during which most people get a good sleep, Dr. Albert says.
  • The prep is worse than the procedure. And that’s not that bad, either. You drink a liquid to help clear your colon so that polyps can be found during the actual procedure. While it might not be especially comfortable, it’s not as dramatic as you might think, Dr. Albert says. Plus, it’s worth it to prevent cancer.

Figuring out when it’s time for you to have your first colonoscopy or other procedure is as simple as asking your doctor what’s right for you. Recently, federal guidelines dropped the recommended age from 50 to 45. But everyone is different, and the best way to know what test is best for you and when you should get it is by talking to your doctor.

Want to learn more about your risk for colorectal cancer? Take a free online quiz here.

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  1. Christina Bergquist June 16, 2021 at 12:33 pm · Reply

    Colonoscopies are extremely important, but patients would be better served if they had a more accurate description of the procedure from the patient’s perspective. Unless things have changed dramatically over the last four years since I last had a colonoscopy, the description here is inaccurate. The actual procedure may take only thirty minutes, but the prep takes an entire day (you have to be close to a toilet once you start the cleanse which makes most work environments impossible not to mention the commute), and after the procedure is over you need to wake up from anesthesia (don’t let anyone talk you into a “twilight” anesthesia because the pain is unbearable!). This means you have to have someone pick you up. The total time for one colonoscopy is three working days – two for the person undergoing the procedure and one for the friend of family member dropping you off and picking you up. Yes, colonoscopies are very important, but please don’t mislead patients. It takes planning and time off work for most people. It is not an easy procedure, but everyone should follow guidelines and have it done when recommended.

  2. Gloria Picchetti June 16, 2021 at 1:51 pm · Reply

    I am very happy I had mine done but it’s not right to say it only takes 30 minutes. It takes two entire days. Day 1 prep; no one is going anywhere. Day two; Someone has to pick you up. They won’t do the procedure if you don’t have a ride. You have to wait just like anything medical. Then you have to change your clothes. Wait for the doctor and the anesthesiologist. Wake up. Wait for them to let you get dressed. Check out. And then you are to loopy to do anything the rest of the day except sleep. That part is nice.

  3. Vincent Orlando June 17, 2021 at 9:42 am · Reply

    I lost a friend to colon cancer; he found out too late. Early detection is key to better outcomes. Colonoscopies are an important tool for detection and far easier than cancer. Still, the article should be more honest about the commitment. 2 days plus a friend to pick you up is the better estimate than 30 minutes.

  4. While it doesn’t give full details on the prep (which you would only need the second half of the day for the rough part, and the first half only sucks because of the clear/liquid diet) or the full time from entering to exiting the hospital/clinic, it wouldn’t be a lie to say the procedure itself takes 30 minutes, it’s just not the full truth. 🙂

About the Author

Mike Riopell
Mike Riopell

Mike Riopell, health enews contributor, is a media relations coordinator with Advocate Aurora Health. He previously worked as a reporter and editor covering politics and government for the Chicago Tribune, Daily Herald and Bloomington Pantagraph, among others. He enjoys bicycles, home repair, flannel shirts and being outside.