Preparing for your colonoscopy

Well before the appointed date, your doctor will give you instructions on how to prepare yourself for your colonoscopy. You may need to start doing your homework a few days before your exam.

The main goal of all this groundwork is to make sure you'll present your doctor with a properly cleansed colon. Otherwise, the colonoscopy may end up taking longer, and it will certainly be more difficult for your doctor to take a look around and give you accurate results.

Tasks to take care of
You can expect to be given several guidelines by your doctor before your colonoscopy. It's important that you follow them carefully. Here are a few examples of what your doctor may instruct you to do:

  • You may be asked to avoid solid food for one to three days, dining on nothing more than clear liquids (broth, tea, coffee, and clear juice). Avoid alcoholic drinks as you prepare for your colonoscopy.
  • You may be told to drink plenty of water. This is extremely important. Water will keep your body hydrated as your bowel empties.
  • You may need to stop certain medications or vitamins, sometimes as early as a week before the procedure. Make sure you discuss what you're taking with your doctor.
  • You may also be advised not to take anything at all by mouth for a few hours before your appointment.

Clearing out your colon
The housekeeping isn't finished yet. A critical task will be to thoroughly sweep out your system with a bowel-cleansing product, usually based on either sodium phosphate or polyethylene glycol (PEG). Each works in a different way. Sodium phosphate helps your bowels absorb water and flush themselves out. PEG is a non-absorbable electrolyte solution that helps move your colon contents along to be evacuated.

Whatever the product, get ready to guzzle. When taking a sodium phosphate product, you must be sure to keep drinking lots of fluids to make up for all the water that's leaving your body. When taking a PEG product, it's important to drink the full volume required, 4 litres (a gallon) in total, so it can work to its full potential. Both sodium phosphate products and PEG preparations are effective and are known to be relatively safe when used as directed.

To keep things simple, we have described two common types of bowel cleansing products. Your doctor may instruct you to use other bowel cleansing products not listed here.

As the bowel cleansing product goes to work, you can expect to have lots of loose stool or diarrhea. Make plans to be home while you prepare for your procedure, because you'll likely find yourself bolting for the bathroom fairly frequently.

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