Prepping for a Colonoscopy: Tips from The Colonoscopy Queen


I’ve had many colonoscopies over the last two decades, so here are my tips for preparing for and going through the procedure.

It's Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month! Colorectal cancer is our country's third leading cause of death and will take the lives of an estimated 53,000 Americans this year, according to the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons.

As someone with Lynch syndrome, I have had multiple colonoscopies over the last two decades. Having Lynch syndrome increases my risk of developing certain types of cancer, including colorectal cancer. We with Lynch syndrome have up to an 80% lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer.

A colonoscopy allows doctors to examine the lining of your colon and rectum for abnormal growths or polyps that could potentially turn into cancer. We can significantly reduce our risk of developing colorectal cancer by detecting and removing these growths early.

Since my eldest brother was diagnosed with colorectal cancer at 35, and due to my strong family history of colorectal cancer, my gastroenterologist urged me to begin my colonoscopies at 25. I was getting scoped every couple of years before I discovered that I have Lynch syndrome.

I have had more colonoscopies at Mayo Clinic than I can count — they are not a big deal. One of the most significant issues I hear people complain about is the liquid prep, which cleans out your colon. The prep's job is to clean your colon as well as possible, so the doctor has a clear image of it. The other issue I see is regarding the placement of the scope; yes, it goes up your rectum; fortunately, you will most likely be sedated for this part and won't recall or feel a thing. Please talk to your doctor to see if sedation is an option.

This is what I do to make the whole process of preparing for my colonoscopy more bearable.

A few days before my scope, I reduce my food intake to make the liquid prep process more tolerable and comfortable. I will eat simple things like pasta and clear broth and drink lots of clear liquids. I avoid foods high in fiber, such as whole grains, nuts, seeds, raw vegetables, fruits, dairy products, red meat and fried foods, because they can leave residue in the colon. I also avoid alcohol and caffeine as they can dehydrate you, making it more difficult to clear your colon. I've also noticed that avoiding carbonated beverages is helpful because they can cause excessive gas and bloating.

On the prep day, I stick to a clear liquid diet and try to consume a clear broth with sodium. The sodium helps keep me hydrated and prevent my veins from collapsing during the IV's placement. The IV is for hydration and helps the anesthesiologist administer the anesthetic before the colonoscopy.

I drink an obscene amount of chilled prep through a straw to minimize its taste, followed by loads of clear liquids, such as clear water with electrolytes. Consuming lots of fluids helps clean your colon, prevents dehydration and minimizes nausea and headache. After drinking the prep, you will spend much time in the bathroom, and I usually take something to read and think of it as a cleansing process. The less food you have in your system, the easier the process will be. The goal of the prep is to have the liquid coming out from your rectum to be as clear as possible. I usually do most of the prep by 2 a.m. and try to get a few hours of sleep.

Usually, I schedule the procedure first thing in the morning because I want to finish the process and not starve all day waiting for the appointment. Since I have terrible scanxiety the morning of the scope, my gastroenterologist allows me to take an Ativan to help calm my nerves. I shower, play uplifting music, and think of my brother Jimmy who never had the opportunity to be proactive like I do — he never knew he had Lynch syndrome when he died of colorectal cancer. I thank my lucky stars for knowing I have Lynch and have an opportunity to be vigilant with my health and can get scoped.

Once I arrive for the scope, I put on a gown, and the medical staff preps me for the procedure. The nurse will take my vitals, asks me questions and has me sign some forms. The doctors come in and ask me some more questions before moving forward. The nurse will put an IV in my hand, and the anesthesiologist will give me something to help me relax before they take me in for my scope. The preparation for the scope takes about 30 minutes before they roll me into the room for the procedure.

The room is frigid, and there are lots of nurses and a couple of doctors in there. They give me heated blankets to keep me warm and may ask me what music I like to listen to before administering the anesthetic, and I always ask them to play Mozart. Fun fact: A small study found that doctors listening to Mozart while performing colonoscopies are more likely to find precancerous polyps.

Then comes the absolute best part — the anesthetic! The anesthesiologist administers the sedative and asks me to start counting backward from 10 before I am rendered unconscious.

I wake up about an hour later in recovery and do not recall a thing from the procedure. The doctor will come in to tell me if they found anything unusual and ask me to follow up with the gastroenterologist. The nurses give me juice and a little something to eat, have me walk a bit and then ask me to use the bathroom before leaving. I'm urged not to sign any contracts or make any major life decisions after leaving the hospital by the staff because I will still be under the influence of the anesthetic for the day. Afterward, I return to my room, eat and sleep off the drug. I don't feel pain anywhere, and my bowel habits return to normal immediately.

While a colonoscopy may not be the most pleasant experience, it's a small price for the peace of mind that comes with knowing you're taking proactive steps to protect your health. The United States Preventative Services Task Force recommends having a colonoscopy starting at age 45.

Please talk to your doctor and schedule yours today — it might save your life.

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