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 problems," says 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 the colonoscopy.
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 health care professional's instructions.