What to Know Before You Get a Colonoscopy

Date: March 8, 2017 at 6:12 pm- by Ali- Comment(s): 25

I happened to get three different messages in the past week asking about getting colonoscopies! And since I’m no stranger to Googling “What to know before you get a colonoscopy,” I figured I’d share my own experiences. You’ll either have absolutely no interest in this, or you’re one of the three people who will find it helpful! Either way, here goes…

Most people get their first colonoscopies when they turn 50.

Well by the time I turned 30, I had already had three. Now I’m 31, and I’ve had four. Thanks to a lifetime with Crohn’s disease, I’ve endured my fair share of slightly invasive — but mostly painless — procedures.

I’m no doctor and I don’t play one on TV, but I’ve learned a few things about colonoscopies over the years. Namely that they’re no big deal. Katie Couric got one on live TV! The worst part is the prep, and there are ways you can make that manageable, too. Here are a few colonoscopy-related tips, tricks, and takeaways from your friendly neighborhood Crohn’s girl…

After my most recent colonoscopy and loving the brief after-effects of the sleepytime drugs.

1. Ask your doctor if you can do a Miralax prep. 

In order to have an effective colonoscopy, your insides need to be emptied out. That means pumping your body with some kind of laxative so your GI tract will be fully visible to the doctor during the procedure. In other words, you need to poop everything out.

There are a few different ways to prep for a colonoscopy — and the prep is tougher than the procedure. The worst prep, in my experience, was when I had to drink a gallon of clear liquid called “Golytely” (yes, pronounced like “go lightly,” which is, well, ironic). When I did that, I made it through one measly glass before I was miserable, complaining, and shivering (I got really bad chills that time). If you’re good at chugging liquids, the prep in general will be easy for you. But I’m not, so the prep is always tough for me.

Just your normal pre-colonoscopy grocery haul…

With a Miralax prep, you do some variation of mixing a bunch of Miralax (a powdered laxative) into a drink of your choice (it can’t be red or purple and it can’t be alcoholic, sorry) and drink the amount prescribed by your doctor. Sometimes the doctor will tell you to drink a certain amount early in the evening and then more in the middle of the night, but I never actually do that.

Because theoretically, once what you’re doing in the bathroom is coming out clear — and it will eventually just start coming out as a clear liquid — you’re probably good to go. I’ve never actually finished an entire prep. I won’t call this advice because doctors will say, “No, you have to drink it all to make sure you’re fully cleared out because if you’re not, we’ll have to re-do the entire procedure!” But historically for me, once I have a few clear episodes in the bathroom, I know I’ve had enough to drink.

Prepping and feeling GORGEOUS…with a little help.

2. But before you start prepping, stop eating. 

Let’s say your colonoscopy is on a Tuesday morning. So you’ll be told to eat dinner Sunday night, fast (or follow a clear liquid diet) all day Monday, and then start your prep sometime Monday evening. One thing that’s made the prep even easier for me is to actually eat very little on Sunday as well. The less that’s in your body by Monday night, the less you have to expel. Try to eat light, easily digestible meals in the days leading up to the prep so it’s not so intense trying to clear everything out.

3. Get really soft toilet paper or baby wipes for while you’re prepping. 

Trust me.

Pro tip: Keep your best buddy by your side at all times. Also pro tip: Make sure someone else is on hand to take said buddy out for walks because you won’t want to stray far from the bathroom.

4. Don’t be too far from the bathroom. 

Once you start going, you’ll be going a lot, and fairly urgently. You’re not going to want to run to the store or to meet up with friends. Stay put and get caught up on your Netflix queue.

5. You might feel really full and bloated. 

All that liquid, man. It’s emptying you out, but it’ll fill you up in the process. I never sleep well the night before a colonoscopy because my stomach feels so weird and, quite honestly, I’m afraid I’m going to make a run for the bathroom while I’m sleeping somehow. Or, you know, not make it. (But that’s never actually been a problem, promise!) Colonoscopies are probably the sexiest procedures.

I DID IT!

6. The actual procedure is easy!

I always ask for as much anesthesia as possible. I like to be fully knocked out. I know some people want to be awake to watch or whatever, but those people are surely insane. I love getting anesthesia. I love those last few seconds after “taking a deep breath in” and then trying to count back from 100 and only making it to 99. I love that dark nap, and I love feeling silly and giggly right before I pass out. If I could get anesthesia or laughing gas at home, I would inhale it every single day. (Is that a thing?)

Before you fall asleep, the doctor will have you turn onto your side, and the next thing you know, you’ll be in recovery! Apparently during my last colonoscopy, I asked Dr. Bosworth why he wanted to “be a butt doctor,” and also convinced myself I was getting a colonoscopy because I had colon cancer. But other than that, it’s a pretty good, non-embarrassing time.

My little dragon was helpful. So was my friend Lone.

Oh, and it won’t hurt. Your bum will not be sore after the procedure. At least mine never has been!

7. But you might feel weird in recovery. 

I got my first few colonoscopies during Crohn’s flares, so I was doing the urgent bathroom thing long before I started prepping for my procedure. During the colonoscopy, the doctor pumps air into your colon, so afterward it’s natural to feel really gassy. Well in my doped up state, I was convinced I was “pooping on the table.” The doctors and nurses kept telling me that no, actually, I wasn’t. It was probably just gas, if anything, but I was absolutely convinced that I needed to take myself to the bathroom. I was too drugged to be able to do that, so they gave me a bed pan and I fell asleep next to it, never needing it at all.

There was also the time I was being wheeled from the procedure room to recovery and I was screaming, “They see me rollin’, they hatin'” the entire way. Like an asshole. Brian said it was funny, though.

I have the best friends.

After my most recent procedure, I only felt doped up for a few minutes once I woke up in recovery, and then I was totally coherent and felt fine and wasn’t bloated or anything. I even went to the I Heart Radio concert at Madison Square Garden that night…though I left before the main acts because I was a tired adult.

8. It’s not a big deal and it shouldn’t feel scary or intimidating. 

Is it pleasant? Not really. But colonoscopies are super important for your health, whether you have an inflammatory bowel disease or you’re a certain age or you’ve been feeling sick and aren’t sure why so your doctor suggested getting one. It really is the best way for your doctor to get a good look inside your intestines. So suck it up, buttercup, and start drinking the non-red Kool-Aid or Gatorade or apple juice (which is my go-to prep juice).

GOOD JOB, BRIAN.

P.S. YOU GOT THIS.

ANY TIPS OR TRICKS YOU’D LIKE TO ADD? OR ANY QUESTIONS? 

25 Responses to "What to Know Before You Get a Colonoscopy"

I agree, the prepping is the worst! I had to drink so much of that horribly artificially flavoured drink that in the end phase I almost had to vomit when I smelled it. Plus, it made me sore on the other end. The nurse told me that this happens to some people, and it would have helped to put some cream on – well, then, thanks for telling me afterwards what I could have proactively done to avoid that, I guess?
The procedure itself was absolutely no big deal, like, at all. One of the most agradable medical appointments, what with the drug and them letting me sleep for quite a while afterwards with a warm blanket… That was sooo nice after quite a few nights with almost no sleep. I would always do it again, I would just take my precautions while prepping and then simply enjoy the sleep!

I feel strangely ‘connected’ to you, because I also had my first (and only so far) colonoscopy before I was 30. You did a good job describing what goes down… it really is not as bad as people think.

Love these tips! My mom had colon cancer, so we would be face timing, and she would just hang up on me, and call me back 5 min later.

My number one tip I tell everyone (because I got my first one at 20 so I like to give wise advice to all my more senior friends) is to get an appointment as early in the morning as possible. The less I have to stay awake while hungry, the better for everyone involved.

Also don’t hyperventilate before they put your IV in. It was my first IV. I thought my mom was going to disown me.

Chicken bouillon also. I was allowed to have bouillon up until 12 hours before I think and just the few calories helped me feel less hangry.

YES, good call on the early AM appointment! That makes a huge difference AND you can get your prep over with sooner the day before!

This isn’t a tip and I don’t know why I feel the need to share this, but being a fellow crohn-y your anesthesia stories made me laugh, so my gastroenterologist is pretty good looking and when I was waking up from anesthesia once, my (then boyfriend) husband said I kept trying to fix my hair and seductively say “hiiiiio doctor….hiiiii!” Kill me. That guy just saw my disease intestines and I tried to flirt with him.

OMG. This is my favorite story. I really hope your husband has this recorded somewhere…

Have always heard similar things re: prep is awful but actual procedure not bad. Glad to have this info even though I’m not yet needing one. I’ve unfortunately had the other side, i.e. a cystoscopy and let me tell you that one is not fun at all.

Wanting that deep anesthesia sleep at home every day is what got Michael Jackson….RIP! But God bless propofol.

We used to do a lot of in-hospital bowel preps at my first job. We had both GoLytely (lolololz) and the MIralax + yellow gatorade combo. I once had to bowel prep a quadripelic, and it basically looked like he peed the bed for the entire shift. I will never forget that…

Totally agree with all of this after two colonoscopies under my belt thanks to ulcerative colitis. I would add to take your time with the prep and don’t feel you have to rush/chug all the liquid! The night before both of my colonoscopies I started the prep a little earlier than suggested and took my time. I was definitely up pretty late those nights but it was worth it, especially knowing I would get to sleep for most of the following day. I didn’t feel rushed and I didn’t feel nauseated (which can definitely happen when trying to drink all that gross stuff in a limited time period). Great tips!! It’s definitely not as awful as people think and if I can do it anyone can 🙂

I ma glad many people here are able to find comfort

I got really sick after mine because all the bacteria from my gut was gone – spent thanksgiving day on the toilet massively constipated and in severe pain. My tip would be to start taking probiotics asap after the procedure so your gut can get healthy again…and if I do have another one I will skip the anesthesia given my mom had Alzheimer’s and I worry about the effect on my brain…

GUMMY BEARS! When I had one, i was allowed to eat anything that jus t turned into clear liquid and that inludes GUMMY BEARS (though not the dark colored ones). Gummy bears, and jello, and popsicles and broth.

Kelly in Texas says: March 27, 2017 at 10:32 pm

GENIUS! I always do green jello, but I LOVE the gummy bear idea!!!

Also in the colonoscopy before 30 club! High five! I get to do them every 3 years now, super fun.

Love these prep tips! I second the lightening up your meals the day before your clear liquid diet tip. I usually just aim for lighter stuff and soups. The advice above to ask for an apt as early in the day as possible is GOLDEN. I personally like to follow my early morning colonoscopy appt with a visit to Five Guys for a burger for lunch. I also buy the boxed beef and chicken broth for my clear liquid day – I’m not a big sweet tooth and most “clear liquid” things end up being sweet, so I end up drinking a lot of warm bowls of chicken or beef broth to get my savory fix and break up the sweet. Also: lemon Italian ice, because it’s nice to “chew” something every once in a while.

I would add that with golytly they say not to drink anything else, but I keep ginger ale and have a sip or two of that to get the taste out of my mouth after drinking the prep fluid. My doc has pretty specific instructions on timing (i.e. 8 oz of prep fluid every 30 minutes until it’s half gone, then finish the remaining fluid in the morning – but I do like you and just stop drinking if/when I know I’m clear), as well as advising to use gas-x before bed after prepping, and in the morning before the procedure. I also know that coming out from general anesthesia makes me nauseated, so I always ask for Zofran in my IV drip.

And my anesthesia stories: I am one of the rare people whose body just doesn’t process anesthetics like most…I can take huge doses of Benadryl with zero effect, and sleep aids barely affect me. I need a LOT of drugs to be completely under (I can’t do the twilight sleep option as I have a blood clotting disorder – I get general so that IF there’s a bleeding complication I’m already under while they do whatever they need to). My first colonoscopy I woke up in the middle and just said “what’s that yellow stuff on the screen?”, at which point my doc said “oh, that’s just bile.” then turned to the anesthesiologist and asked why I was awake. I watched him remove a polyp and we had a conversation about it’s size, so once it was removed and in the little vial he held it in front of my face so I could see that it was actually tiny. Legit entire conversation happening as I’m like “oh, you’ve got a camera up my butt!” and he was totes chill and casual like it was all run of the mill. Second colonoscopy, he told the anesthesiologist what they had given me the first time around and mentioned that I had woken up and what they had upped it to…her jaw dropped and she looked at me and told me she’d be out for three days with that dose. I laughed, she dosed me….and I still woke up mid-procedure! I looked at her and said “What do you think it would it take to knock ME out for three days?!” and she chuckled and had me back under before she could even answer. Third time around I didn’t wake up, so I guess at least now we’ve got that figured out?! 🙂

I joined the colonoscopy club at 32 – my sister had colon cancer at 36 and survived. I was having some issues so my primary care doctor wanted me to get one. Since then, I’ve had one every two years because of one damn polyp that was benign. For me, my thing I make sure to do is not eat meat a few days before the prep, sometimes even a week before because evidently meat takes longer to digest. I do the Miralax as well but also am required to take an oral laxative. I did the “Go lightly” once and also had the shivers and sweats so thankful I don’t have to use that stuff anymore.

Stephanie says: March 9, 2017 at 11:58 am

I’ve had one…earlier this year. Everything turned out OK, but one piece of advice you won’t find in the pamphlet and they don’t tell you is that during prep: NEVER EVER TRUST A FART. I tell everyone I know who is going for one….they look at me horrified, but I can’t tell you how many times I have been thanked for that little piece of wisdom.

I laughed so hard at the “they see my rollin, the hating”

For mine, my doctor asked me what the first thing I was going to eat. As they were drugging me up I told him I brought him brownies and I’d share with them if they didn’t kill me.

I did survive obviously, but obviously kept the brownies all to myself!

I agree it’s really painless. And it can be very important so worth it to suck it up and take it as an excuse to not get off your couch for two days if you milk your PTO days right!

Haha – dang. I’ve had three colonoscopies and have never said anything funny out of anesthesia. #lifegoals. I’ve had two really good experiences, and one kind of Meh – but it was largely based on the facility. The last one was the kind where they rushed you in, rushed you out, and clearly had overbooked the day. Someone was trying to stick me with the iv while they were rolling me in, and I was awake before they even rolled me out of the actual procedure room – which FREAKED me out. Thank god that wasn’t my first colonoscopy, so I was already calm going in – it would have scared the crap out of me otherwise.

As for liquids? I’m a yellow gatorade and a little ginger ale type girl. Also, I usually start my prep a liiiiiittle earlier than the doctor suggests – my fear is that somehow I won’t be done “going” the morning of the procedure and will have to rush out of the waiting room or from the bed to go!

Hi all! I had my first colonoscopy at 33 and I really thought HR would pull me in to stop talking about my innards at work!. The best part of my procedure was you were supposed to be full of air afterwards, but I never felt any… Only to find out a few months later that apparently I just smelled like a fart for 48 hours afterward, without noticing myself. Thank goodness my brother waited to tell me because I would have been horrified at the time, but now find it hilarious 🙂 And I know to have my procedure on a Friday!

Don’t forget to chill your prep. My first half last time tasted like a weirdly warm grity diluted lemon drop. Yep all of that at the same time. It was rough!

Ugh the prep 🙁 I’m 28 and up to 5 colonoscopies, not a great ratio. I’ve come to manage them the best I can though, similar to you. Still haven’t found my “favorite” prep, although I like your style of not finishing the prep…I ALWAYS have trouble slugging it down. And I totally agree with anesthesia!! It’s AMAZING stuff, love going under, although I don’t love the waking up. I never do anything fun or funny though I just feel so wonky and am generally not too happy when I get up and it takes me a few hours to get back to normal and try to get some food into my system without overloading it. Also a tip for any females-although you have essentially voided your body of all foods and liquids, you will still have to do a pregnancy test so DONT PEE before the test if you can hold it! As soon as you get to the facility you can ask to do the pregnancy test right away so you don’t have to wait longer. It’s never a fun time, but if you learn to roll with it instead of fighting it it becomes a much easier process. Good advice here Ali, wish there was stuff like this out there when I started needing these!

Lisa Foster says: March 17, 2017 at 4:31 pm

It is so true that the procedure itself is no big deal. I asked to be knocked out, and when in recovery, i was laying there thinking, when is the procedure going to happen? I finally realized I was in a different room and it was over already, I never knew it happened. Having my second one in a few months (due to family history) and not stressing about it at all.

Thank you for your article Ali! And the comments are great as well! I am meeting today to schedule a colonoscopy & was just petrified to go thru one. Ridiculous for a Mom who had 2 kids. If I can survive childbirth, this s/b much better! My daughter forwarded your article to me since I have my appt today & now I have info so thanks sooo much!!!

Kelly in Texas says: March 27, 2017 at 10:31 pm

LOL… so I’m a little behind on my blog queue… but MAN this was greatness. People always think I’m weird because I kinda like getting colonoscopies… but I agree, the anesthesia is so fun! Over the past 17 years of getting colonoscopies (not every year!), the prep has become way easier (Go Lytely made me puke on my mom… sorry, Mom!). But the anesthesia doesn’t make me as crazy anymore… which is sort of unfortunate. Now it’s so “good” that you are just clear-headed within minutes. Too bad, I kinda liked the hilarious things I said with the old drugs! Thanks for the funnies!!!