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What is a Colonoscopy?

Colonoscopy enables your doctor to examine the lining of your colon (large intestine) for abnormalities by inserting a flexible tube as thick as your finger into your anus and slowly advancing it into the rectum and colon. If your doctor has recommended a colonoscopy, this brochure will give you a basic understanding of the procedure - how it's performed, how it can help, and what side effects you might experience. It can't answer all of your questions since much depends on the individual patient and the doctor. Please ask your doctor about anything you don't understand.

What preparation is required?

Your doctor will tell you what dietary restrictions to follow and what cleansing routine to use. In general, the preparation consists of either consuming a large volume of a special cleansing solution or clear liquids and special oral laxatives. The colon must be completely clean for the procedure to be accurate and complete, so be sure to follow your doctor's instructions carefully.

Can I take my current medications?

Most medications can be continued as usual, but some medications can interfere with the preparation or the examination. Inform your doctor about medications you're taking, particularly aspirin products, arthritis medications, anticoagulants (blood thinners), insulin or iron products. Also, be sure to mention allergies you have to medications.

Alert your doctor if you require antibiotics prior to dental procedures, because you might need antibiotics before a colonoscopy as well.

What happens during colonoscopy?

Colonoscopy is well-tolerated and rarely causes much pain. You might feel pressure, bloating or cramping during the procedure. Your doctor might give you a sedative to help you relax and better tolerate any discomfort.

You will lie on your side or back while your doctor slowly advances a colonoscope through your large intestine to examine the lining. Your doctor will examine the lining again as he or she slowly withdraws the colonoscope. The procedure itself usually takes 15 to 60 minutes, although you should plan on two to three hours for waiting, preparation and recovery.

In some cases, the doctor cannot pass the colonoscope through the entire colon to where it meets the small intestine. Although another examination might be needed, your doctor might decide that the limited examination is sufficient.

What if the colonoscopy shows something abnormal?

If your doctor thinks an area needs further evaluation, he or she might pass an instrument through the colonoscope to obtain a biopsy (a sample of the colon lining) to be analyzed. Biopsies are used to identify many conditions, and your doctor might order one even if he or she doesn't suspect cancer. If colonoscopy is being performed to identify sites of bleeding, your doctor might control the bleeding through the colonoscope by injecting medications or by coagulation (sealing off bleeding vessels with heat treatment). Your doctor might also find polyps during colonoscopy, and he or she will most likely remove them during the examination. These procedures don't usually cause any pain.

What are polyps and why are they removed?

Polyps are abnormal growths in the colon lining that are usually benign (noncancerous). They vary in size from a tiny dot to several inches. Your doctor can't always tell a benign polyp from a malignant (cancerous) polyp by its outer appearance, so he or she might send removed polyps for analysis. Because cancer begins in polyps, removing them is an important means of preventing colorectal cancer.

How are polyps removed?

Your doctor might destroy tiny polyps by fulguration (burning) or by removing them with wire loops called snares or with biopsy instruments. Your doctor might use a technique called "snare polypectomy" to remove larger polyps. That technique involves passing a wire loop through the colonoscope and removing the polyp from the intestinal wall using an electrical current. You should feel no pain during the polypectomy.

What happens after a colonoscopy?

Your physician will explain the results of the examination to you, although you'll probably have to wait for the results of any biopsies performed.

If you have been given sedatives during the procedure, someone must drive you home and stay with you. Even if you feel alert after the procedure, your judgment and reflexes could be impaired for the rest of the day. You might have some cramping or bloating because of the air introduced into the colon during the examination. This should disappear quickly when you pass gas.

You should be able to eat after the examination, but your doctor might restrict your diet and activities, especially after polypectomy.

What are the possible complications of colonoscopy?

Colonoscopy and polypectomy are generally safe when performed by doctors who have been specially trained and are experienced in these procedures.

One possible complication is a perforation, or tear, through the bowel wall that could require surgery. Bleeding might occur at the site of biopsy or polypectomy, but it's usually minor. Bleeding can stop on its own or be controlled through the colonoscope; it rarely requires follow-up treatment. Some patients might have a reaction to the sedatives or complications from heart or lung disease.

Although complications after colonoscopy are uncommon, it's important to recognize early signs of possible complications. Contact your doctor if you notice severe abdominal pain, fever and chills, or rectal bleeding of more than one-half cup. Note that bleeding can occur several days after the procedure.

What is flexible sigmoidoscopy?

Flexible sigmoidoscopy lets your doctor examine the lining of the rectum and a portion of the colon (large intestine) by inserting a flexible tube about the thickness of your finger into the anus and slowly advancing it into the rectum and lower part of the colon.

What preparation is required?

Your doctor will tell you what cleansing routine to use. In general, preparation consists of one or two enemas prior to the procedure but could include laxatives or dietary modifications as well. However, in some circumstances your doctor might advise you to forgo any special preparation. Because the rectum and lower colon must be completely empty for the procedure to be accurate, it's important to follow your doctor's instructions carefully.

Should I continue my current medications?

Most medications can be continued as usual. Inform your doctor about medications that you're taking - particularly aspirin products or anticoagulants (blood thinners such as warfarin or heparin), or clopidogrel, as well as any allergies you have to medications.

What can I expect during flexible sigmoidoscopy?

Flexible sigmoidoscopy is usually well-tolerated. You might experience a feeling of pressure, bloating or cramping during the procedure. You will lie on your side while your doctor advances the sigmoidoscope through the rectum and colon. As your doctor withdraws the instrument, your doctor will carefully examine the lining of the intestine.

What if the flexible sigmoidoscopy finds something abnormal?

If your doctor sees an area that needs further evaluation, your doctor might take a biopsy (tissue sample) to be analyzed. Obtaining a biopsy does not cause any pain or discomfort. Biopsies are used to identify many conditions, and your doctor might order one even if he or she doesn't suspect cancer.

If your doctor finds polyps, he or she might take a biopsy of them as well. Polyps, which are growths from the lining of the colon, vary in size and types. Polyps known as "hyperplastic" might not require removal, but benign polyps known as "adenomas" have a small risk of becoming cancerous. Your doctor will likely ask you to have a colonoscopy (a complete examination of the colon) to remove any large polyps or any small adenomas.

What happens after a flexible sigmoidoscopy?

Your doctor will explain the results to you when the procedure is done. You might feel bloating or some mild cramping because of the air that was passed into the colon during the examination. This will disappear quickly when you pass gas. You should be able to eat and resume your normal activities after leaving your doctor's office or the hospital, assuming you did not receive any sedative medication.

What are possible complications of flexible sigmoidoscopy?

Flexible sigmoidoscopy and biopsy are safe when performed by doctors who are specially trained and experienced in these endoscopic procedures. Complications are rare, but it's important for you to recognize early signs of possible complications. Contact your doctor if you notice severe abdominal pain, fevers and chills, or rectal bleeding. Note that rectal bleeding can occur several days after the exam.

What is a therapeutic ERCP?

Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography, or ERCP, is a study of the ducts that drain the liver and pancreas. Ducts are drainage routes into the bowel. The ones that drain the liver and gallbladder are called bile or biliary ducts. The one that drains the pancreas is called the pancreatic duct. The bile and pancreatic ducts join together just before they drain into the upper bowel, about 3 inches from the stomach. The drainage opening is called the papilla. The papilla is surrounded by a circular muscle, called the sphincter of Oddi. Diagnostic ERCP is when X-ray contrast dye is injected into the bile duct, the pancreatic duct, or both. This contrast dye is squirted through a small tube called a catheter that fits through the ERCP endoscope. X-rays are taken during ERCP to get pictures of these ducts. That is called diagnostic ERCP. However, most ERCPs are actually done for treatment and not just picture taking. When an ERCP is done to allow treatment, it is called therapeutic ERCP.

Esophageal dilatation is a therapeutic endoscopic procedure that enlarges the lumen of the esophagus.

Percutaneous Endoscopic Gastrostomy (PEG)

Percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy, or PEG, is a procedure during which an endoscope assists the placement of a flexible feeding tube through the abdominal wall and into the stomach. The PEG procedure is for patients who have difficulty swallowing, problems with their appetite or an inability to take enough nutrition through the mouth. It allows nutrition, fluids, and/or medications to be put directly into the stomach, bypassing the mouth and esophagus.

In this procedure, the endoscopist uses a lighted, flexible tube called an endoscope to guide the creation of a small opening through the skin of the abdomen and directly into the stomach. This allows the doctor to place and secure a feeding tube into the stomach. Patients generally receive a sedative and local anesthesia, and an antibiotic is given by vein prior to the procedure. Patients can usually go home the day of the procedure or the next day.

A PEG does not prevent a patient from eating or drinking, but depending on the medical condition and situation, the doctor might decide to limit or completely avoid eating or drinking.

PEG tubes can last for months or years. However, because they can break down or become clogged over extended periods of time, they might need to be replaced. The doctor can remove or replace a tube without sedatives or anesthesia, although he or she might opt to use sedation and endoscopy in some cases. PEG sites close quickly once the tube is removed, so accidental dislodgment requires immediate attention.

What is Capsule Endoscopy?

Capsule Endoscopy lets your doctor examine the lining of the middle part of your gastrointestinal tract, which includes the three portions of the small intestine (duodenum, jejunum, ileum). Your doctor will give you a pill sized video camera for you to swallow. This camera has its own light source and takes pictures of your small intestine as it passes through. These pictures are sent to a small recording device you have to wear on your body.

Your doctor will be able to view these pictures at a later time and might be able to provide you with useful information regarding your small intestine.

Why is Capsule Endoscopy Done?

Capsule endoscopy helps your doctor evaluate the small intestine. This part of the bowel cannot be reached by traditional upper endoscopy or by colonoscopy. The most common reason for doing capsule endoscopy is to search for a cause of bleeding from the small intestine. It may also be useful for detecting polyps, inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease), ulcers, and tumors of the small intestine.

As is the case with most new diagnostic procedures, not all insurance companies are currently reimbursing for this procedure. You may need to check with your own insurance company to ensure that this is a covered benefit.

How Should I Prepare for the Procedure?

An empty stomach allows for the best and safest examination, so you should have nothing to eat or drink, including water, for approximately twelve hours before the examination. Your doctor will tell you when to start fasting.

Tell your doctor in advance about any medications you take including iron, aspirin, bismuth subsalicylate products and other over-the-counter medications. You might need to adjust your usual dose prior to the examination.

Discuss any allergies to medications as well as medical conditions, such as swallowing disorders and heart or lung disease.

Tell your doctor of the presence of a pacemaker or defibrillator, previous abdominal surgery, or previous history of bowel obstructions in the bowel, inflammatory bowel disease, or adhesions.

Your doctor may ask you to do a bowel prep/cleansing prior to the examination.

What Can I Expect During Capsule Endoscopy?

Your doctor will prepare you for the examination by applying a sensor device to your abdomen with adhesive sleeves (similar to tape). The pill-sized capsule endoscope is swallowed and passes naturally through your digestive tract while transmitting video images to a data recorder worn on your belt for approximately eight hours. At the end of the procedure you will return to the office and the data recorder is removed so that images of your small bowel can be put on a computer screen for physician review.

Most patients consider the test comfortable. The capsule endoscope is about the size of a large pill. After ingesting the capsule and until it is excreted you should not be near an MRI device or schedule an MRI examination.

What Happens After Capsule Endoscopy?

You will be able to drink clear liquids after two hours and eat a light meal after four hours following the capsule ingestion, unless your doctor instructs you otherwise. You will have to avoid vigorous physical activity such as running or jumping during the study. Your doctor generally can tell you the test results within the week following the procedure; however, the results of some tests might take longer.

What are the Possible Complications of Capsule Endoscopy?

Although complications can occur, they are rare when doctors who are specially trained and experienced in this procedure perform the test. There is potential for the capsule to be stuck at a narrowed spot in the digestive tract resulting in bowel obstruction. This usually relates to a stricture (narrowing) of the digestive tract from inflammation, prior surgery, or tumor. It’s important to recognize obstruction early. Signs of obstruction include unusual bloating, abdominal pain, nausea or vomiting. You should call your doctor immediately for any such concerns. Also, if you develop a fever after the test, have trouble swallowing or experience chest pain, tell your doctor immediately. Be careful not to prematurely disconnect the system as this may result in loss of pictures being sent to your recording device.