“I can’t stress enough how easy it is, and it can save your life.”
Gravholt had his first colonoscopy a few years ago after he was having some symptoms that concerned him, and he ended up having three polyps removed. “I was only 45, but I decided it didn’t make sense to put it off.”
Just recently he had a second colonoscopy to check to see if he had any additional polyps, and was given a clean bill of health. “That gives me a lot of peace of mind,” he said.
Gravholt admits that he was a little nervous before his first one. “I found out that it’s a piece of cake. I slept through it and don’t even remember it. It’s just a great diagnostic tool.”
No one enjoys the prep work the night before, but Gravholt says it’s not that bad. He took two Dulcolax tablets the afternoon before, and mixed Miralax and Gatorade together. “You have to drink 64 ounces over a period of time,” he said. The result is having to go to the bathroom eight to 10 times to clean out your colon. “It doesn’t hurt,” he said, and it’s not the same feeling as having diarrhea and cramps. “It’s just the contents of your digestive system moving through at a faster rate.”
You also go without food the day before. “The first thing I wanted to do after it was over was eat,” Gravholt said.
Steven Condron, MD, Avera board-certified gastroenterologist, said there’s a lot of medical science behind the recommendation to start having colonoscopy screenings at age 50.
The goal is to predict who is most likely to get cancer, and prevent it.
“Small, precancerous lesions or polyps can form in the lining of the colon, and the only way to know if they’re there is to view it with colonoscopy,” Condron said. “Plus, we can remove the polyps at the same time.”
It’s predicted that polyps will be found in 25 percent of men and 20 percent of women. There’s no way to know if you’re a “polyp former” until that first colonoscopy, Condron said.
If polyps are found, more frequent colonoscopies are recommended to ensure that no polyps can grow into cancer. If there are no polyps, you can go 10 years before you have another colonoscopy.
Some people fear the risk of bowel perforation during the test. While this is a risk, the risk is very small – about 1 in 1,000 to 1 in 2,000. In comparison, colon cancer is found in 1 of every 100 colonoscopies.
Other tests can be considered, like the annual FIT stool test. “However, colonoscopy is considered the gold standard. Not only does it detect cancer, it can prevent it because we interrupt the cancer process,” Condron said.
The colonoscopy process:
- First you have a prep evaluation with a nurse. Over the phone, you talk through the bowel prep to ensure you understand everything. Good bowel prep is critical to having an accurate colonoscopy.
- You pick up the necessary medications at the pharmacy, and begin the prep the afternoon before your scheduled procedure. Make sure you plan to stay home that afternoon and evening.
- The day of the test, when you arrive, you will be given an IV for sedation drugs, as well as chest leads and oxygen tubing. The drugs put you under “moderate conscious sedation.” “Most patients go right to sleep and have little if any memory of the procedure,” Condron said. One drug eliminates any pain or discomfort, and the other drug erases any memory of the procedure. “You’re back to normal the next day,” he said.
- During the actual procedure, the physician dilates the colon with air and inserts the scope. Actual test time is about 30 minutes.
- If you feel any discomfort after the test, it’s feeling bloated due to the air in your colon. As soon as you pass this air, you feel better.
- When you’re feeling up to it, you can go home. You need to plan on having someone drive you home.
- The time from arrival to the time when you go home is a total of about three hours.