A colonoscopy poses few risks. Rarely, complications of a colonoscopy may include:
- Adverse reaction to the sedative used during the exam
- Bleeding from the site where a tissue sample (biopsy) was taken or a polyp or other abnormal tissue was removed
- A tear in the colon or rectum wall (perforation)
After discussing the risks of colonoscopy with you, your doctor will ask you to sign a consent form authorizing the procedure.
How you prepare
Before a colonoscopy, you’ll need to clean out (empty) your colon. Any residue in your colon may obscure the view of your colon and rectum during the exam.
To empty your colon, your doctor may ask you to:
Follow a special diet the day before the exam. Typically, you won’t be able to eat solid food the day before the exam. Drinks may be limited to clear liquids — plain water, tea and coffee without milk or cream, broth, and carbonated beverages. Avoid red liquids, which can be confused with blood during the colonoscopy. You may not be able to eat or drink anything after midnight the night before the exam.
Take a laxative. Your doctor will usually recommend taking a laxative, in either pill form or liquid form. You may be instructed to take the laxative the night before your colonoscopy, or you may be asked to use the laxative both the night before and the morning of the procedure.
Use an enema kit. In some cases, you may need to use an over-the-counter enema kit — either the night before the exam or a few hours before the exam — to empty your colon. This is generally only effective in emptying the lower colon and is usually not recommended as a primary way of emptying your colon.
Adjust your medications. Remind your doctor of your medications at least a week before the exam — especially if you have diabetes, high blood pressure or heart problems or if you take medications or supplements that contain iron.
Also tell your doctor if you take aspirin or other medications that thin the blood, such as warfarin (Coumadin, Jantoven); newer anticoagulants, such as dabigatran (Pradaxa) or rivaroxaban (Xarelto), used to reduce risk of blot clots or stroke; or heart medications that affect platelets, such as clopidogrel (Plavix).
You may need to adjust your dosages or stop taking the medications temporarily.
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