One of the most dreaded medical procedures is a colonoscopy. They are a screening for colon cancer that begin at age 50 for most people. It is a common procedure with over 40,000 being done everyday, but it still isn’t pleasant. They can pose risks, such as bowel perforation or severe abdominal pain.
With these complications is a colonoscopy necessary? Find out the essential information first.
Facts about Colonoscopies
Colonoscopy is the most accurate test for cancer of the colon and rectum, proven to detect the disease early and save lives.
- The procedure allows the doctor to look inside the entire colon and rectum
- The doctor is looking for abnormal growths, inflamed tissue, and ulcers
But even a very good test can be done too often. Here’s when you need it:
- Screening to check for cancer or inflammatory diseases
- Surveillance to follow up if you have a history of cancer, colon polyps or inflammatory bowel disease
- Colorectal cancer is one the diseases screened for during a colonoscopy and polyps may also be removed during that time.
- Therapeutic purposes to seal off intestinal bleeding or to treat a blockage or narrowing in the colon
Is the Procedure Needed?
Even though a colonoscopy is considered mandatory every 10 years after the age of 50 there might be situations where it isn’t necessary.
New research is beginning to question the necessity of colonoscopies in seniors if:
You are Over the Age of 75
It might not be the best idea for seniors over the age of 75 to have a colonoscopy. It should be assessed whether the person needs one or not on a case by case basis. These procedures expose people to the risks of a colonoscopy without evidence that they are likely to benefit from them.
You’ve had One in the Last 10 Years
After a normal colonoscopy when no polyps are found, guidelines call for a repeat test in 10 years. However, almost half of Medicare patients with a negative colonoscopy got another exam within 7 years, and for one in four there was no clear evidence that they needed one. Because colonoscopies have real risks and are expensive, over-testing can be both dangerous and costly.
Another Test Could Be More Beneficial
A test that is less invasive could be a better option for a senior. There are alternative tests to check that your bowels are healthy.
These tests can include:
- Fecal Immunochemical Tests
- Double-contrast barium enema
- Fecal occult blood tests
- Stool DNA
- CT colonoscopy
How to Prepare for a Colonoscopy
Discuss with your doctor whether or not a colonoscopy is the best decision for your age and health situation. If you and your doctor come to the decision that it’s necessary then follow this advice for preparation:
Bowel preparation for a colonoscopy isn’t pleasant, but must be done correctly or the entire examination may have to be repeated. Bowel preparation works like a strong laxative to quickly eliminate solid waste from the digestive tract, resulting in diarrhea.
The afternoon or evening before the colonoscopy, you will drink a liquid that triggers bowel-clearing diarrhea. You will be given instructions that will explain what you should and should not do in preparation for the colonoscopy.You will also get a list of what you can and cannot eat or drink.
Bowel preparation is an essential part of a successful colonoscopy, so you need to make sure that you completely understand the instructions provided concerning your bowel preparation.
During a colonoscopy, an experienced doctor uses a colonoscope to view the lining of the colon. The colonoscope is inserted into the rectum and advanced through the large intestine. If necessary during a colonoscopy, small amounts of tissue can be removed for analysis and polyps can be identified and entirely removed. In many cases, a colonoscopy allows accurate diagnosis and treatment of colorectal problems without the need for a major operation.
- You are asked to wear a hospital gown and an IV will be started.
- You are given a pain reliever and a sedative intravenously. You will feel relaxed and somewhat drowsy.
- You will lie on your left side, with your knees drawn up towards your chest.
- A small amount of air is used to expand the colon so the physician can see the colon walls.
- You may feel mild cramping during the procedure. Cramping can be reduced by taking slow, deep breaths.
- The colonoscope is slowly withdrawn while the lining of your bowel is carefully examined.
- The procedure lasts from 30 minutes to 1 hour.
During the first 24 hours, you should adhere to the following guidelines:
- Refrain from driving or operating heavy machinery until at least day after your procedure.
- Take any pain medications or stool softeners as prescribed.
- Drink plenty of liquids, including prune juice which can help soften stools.
- Avoid alcohol for the first 24 hours.
- Eat high-fiber foods or use an over-the-counter fiber supplement, if needed.
- Rest and avoid any heavy lifting or strenuous activity.
- Make sure you have someone with you. If you are single, ask a friend or family member if they can stay the night.
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