Colonoscopies aren't the most fun medical procedure, and getting prepped
for them isn't exactly a picnic, either.
"Colonoscopies are crucial for detecting cancer and other gastrointestinal
Houssam Al-Kharrat, MD, a gastroenterologist at
Covenant Health Partners in Lubbock. "But many people are put off by the uncomfortable preparations--which
involve special drinks, tablets or laxatives to clear all waste from the
colon--and they may hesitate to get a colonoscopy or just put it off entirely."
It's National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and a good reminder
that everyone should get a colonoscopy (generally, healthy people should
have one starting at age 50). Dr. Al-Kharrat shares his secrets to making
those long hours before a colonoscopy more bearable.
1. Clear your calendar. The last thing you want to do is constantly run back and forth from your
office to the bathroom at work. "Clearing the colon means a lot of
time on the toilet, so you'll want to plan ahead and perhaps take
a day off work or get help with childcare if need be; it's also common
to divide the prep between the night before the procedure and the day
of, which can help with scheduling," Dr. Al-Kharrat says. "You'll
want to stick close to the bathroom at home; if your bedroom has a master
bath attached, that may be the best place, as you can stretch out and
relax on the bed in between bathroom visits."
2. Brew your favorite coffee. "Often, patients are restricted to consuming only clear liquids the
day before a colonoscopy because it aids in clearing out the colon,"
Dr. Al-Kharrat says. "So stock up on your favorite type of coffee
as a way to treat yourself during the prep, but be sure to take it black."
If you're not a coffee drinker, try tea or ginger ale. You can also
revert back to childhood and enjoy your favorite flavor of Popsicles,
as long as there's no red, purple or blue dye in them--they can affect
3. Add flavor to your colonoscopy prep drink. "Generally, the solutions prescribed for colon clearing are polyethylene
glycol or oral sodium phosphate--and neither one could be described as
tasty," Dr. Al-Kharrat says. "You'll want something as palatable
as possible; you have to drink large quantities of it, and if you can't
get it all down your colon may not be empty enough for a proper colonoscopy."
Ask your doctor about flavored varieties of polyethylene glycol, or mix
in some type of flavored drink powder. A bit of ginger or lemon can also
help. Oral sodium phosphate can be mixed with a clear soft drink.
4. Look into tablets. If you can't stomach the thought of drinking the prep drinks, ask
your doctor about oral sodium phosphate tablets. "These are taken
with lots of clear liquids--not just water, but also apple juice, flavored
waters or Gatorade, so long as they are not red or purple," Dr. Al-Kharrat
says. "These liquids are important because oral sodium phosphate
can be dehydrating. However, the tablets aren't for everyone, as there
have been some reported cases of kidney problems."
5. Make yourself comfortable. When drinking all those liquids to flush out your colon (and taking all
those subsequent trips to the bathroom), it helps to wear loose-fitting,
comfortable clothes. "Stay in pajamas or sweatpants with a waistband
that's not too binding; side effects of the prep drinks can include
bloating and stomach cramps so you want pants that aren't restrictive,"
Dr. Al-Kharrat says.
6. Be kind to your behind. "Flushing out the colon produces a heavy volume of diarrhea, and
your bottom may feel sore as a result. Wet wipes with aloe are a good
alternative to toilet paper, which can further irritate the skin,"
Dr. Al-Kharrat says.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical
care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.