Tips for a successful colonoscopy


If you’re about to have a colonoscopy, you may have heard the procedure is not pleasant. It’s important to know, however, that colon cancer is one of the few cancers that actually can be prevented through screening.

“A colonoscopy is a procedure through which a physician examines the entire colon for signs of colorectal cancer or colon polyps, which can turn into colon cancer over time,” said Angie Matei, MBA, BSN, RN, Clinical Nurse Manager, Surgical Services at Northwestern Medicine Huntley Hospital.

Many people arrive at their appointment extremely uncomfortable, thinking that everyone in the room is watching them being exposed, said Matei. “The truth is, the patient is lying on his or her left side and is covered with blankets at all times. The endoscopy team is looking at the monitor screen, where the camera at the end of the scope is looking for polyps,” she explained.

For a successful test:

  • Follow a low-fiber diet for two to three days before the procedure.
  • Avoid seeds, corn or other grains, nuts, and raw fruits and vegetables.
  • Eat small meals a day or two before the procedure.
  • Take laxatives and stool softeners as prescribed.
  • Avoid foods with red dye, and drink the entire volume of the prep you will be provided as directed. Do not stop when you think your digestive system is empty.

“Keep in mind, the human colon is about 5 feet long and about 3 inches in diameter, so it needs a lot of fluid to flush it out completely,” Matei said. “To make the prep more tolerable, chill it, drink through a straw and add your favorite flavor to it, such as lime, lemon, orange, pineapple or coconut.”

The risk of developing colorectal cancer increases with age. Starting at age 45, individuals with an average risk of colorectal cancer should get a regular screening.

Northwestern Medicine McHenry Hospital, 4201 Medical Center Drive, McHenry, Illinois 60050, 815.338.6600,

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