Bhupinder Anand, MD
In this Article
What should I expect post colonoscopy?
Patients will be kept in an observation area for an hour or two post-colonoscopy until the effects of medications that have been given adequately wear off. If patients have been given sedatives before or during colonoscopy, they may not drive, even if they feel alert. Someone else must drive them home. The patient's reflexes and judgment may be impaired for the rest of the day, making it unsafe to drive, operate machinery, or make important decisions. Should patients have some cramping or bloating, this can be relieved quickly with the passage of gas, and they should be able to eat upon returning home. After the removal of polyps or certain other manipulations, the diet or activities of patients may be restricted for a brief period of time.
Prior to the patient's departure from the coloscopic unit, the findings can be discussed with the patient. However, at times, a definitive diagnosis may have to wait for a microscopic analysis of biopsy specimens, which usually takes a few days.
What are the possible complications or alternatives to colonoscopy?
Complications of colonoscopy are rare and usually minor when performed by physicians who have been specially trained and are experienced.
Bleeding may occur at the site of biopsy or removal of polyps, but the bleeding usually is minor and self-limited or can be controlled through the colonoscope. It is quite unusual to require transfusions or surgery for post-colonoscopic bleeding. An even less common complication is a perforation or a tear through the colonic wall, but even these perforations usually do not require surgery.
Other potential complications are reactions to the sedatives used, localized irritation to the vein where medications were injected (leaving a tender lump lasting a day or two), or complications from existing heart or lung disease. The incidence of all of these, together, is less than one percent.
While these complications are rare, it is important for patients to recognize early signs of a complication so that they may return to their physicians or an emergency room. The colonoscopist who performed the colonoscopy should be contacted if a patient notices severe abdominal pain, rectal bleeding of more than half a cup, or fever and chills.
Colonoscopy is the best method available to detect, diagnose, and treat abnormalities within the colon. The alternatives to colonoscopy are quite limited. Barium enema is a less accurate test performed with X-rays. It misses abnormalities more often than colonoscopy, and, if an abnormality is found, a colonoscopy still may be required to biopsy or remove the abnormality. At times, an abnormality or lesion detected with a barium enema is actually stool or residual food in a poorly cleansed colon. Colonoscopy may then be necessary to clarify the issue. Flexible sigmoidoscopy is a limited examination that uses a shorter colonoscope and examines only the last one-third of the colon.