Is a Colonoscopy Really a Pain in the …?

Most of us cringe when our doctor recommends a colonoscopy. That is so painful and embarrassing! But is it, really? Does a colonoscopy hurt? Pain is the most common perception about a colonoscopy. However, most patients find it to be more unpleasant and uncomfortable than painful.

What is a Colonoscopy?

Unless you have symptoms or a family history of colon cancer, doctors recommend that you get your first colonoscopy when you are 50 years old, and then every 5-10 years – if the initial screening indicated no problems.

When scheduled for a colonoscopy, make sure to follow your hospital or clinic’s instructions. You may or may not be allowed to drink and eat for hours before the procedure. For example, you may be restricted to clear liquids. So, you can eat popsicles and broth, or drink tea and coffee. However, you typically are not supposed to eat or drink anything that is red, purple, or blue in color.

Also, prior to the colonoscopy, you will likely have to take laxatives in the form of a liquid that tastes pretty disgusting. To minimize the flavor, try chilling the liquid, using a straw to drink it, and adding soda to it (if allowed). Make sure to completely finish the liquid laxative. Otherwise, you will not effectively clear your digestive tract for the colonoscopy.

During a colonoscopy, a colonoscope is passed through your rectum and through your colon. The colonoscope is a thin and flexible tube with a tiny camera that lets medical professionals see inside your bowels. It takes about 30-45 minutes to complete a colonoscopy.

A colonoscopy is performed to find possible abnormalities, including polyps or cancers. Your doctor may remove polyps, but not all are cancerous. However, they can become cancerous later on, so they are removed.

To minimize pain related to the colonoscopy and polyp removal, you are usually placed under sedation.

Pain and Sedation

Most people prefer some form of sedation to relax their nerves and prevent pain. Despite the sedation, you may experience minimal pain, discomfort, or cramping for a few minutes, especially when the colonoscope is moved around or air fills your bowels.

Most doctors want you to be mildly rather than heavily sedated, so you can let them know if you feel pain. During a colonoscopy, the following options are available:

  • Slightly sedated with drugs – conscious sedation
  • Put to sleep with anesthesia – unconscious sedation
  • No sedation

Various drugs can be used by medical professionals to sedate patients during a colonoscopy, including propofol, diazepam, diphenhydramine, and fentanyl. However, midazolam and propofol are used most often for sedation, and fentanyl for anesthesia. Depending on the drug used for sedation, it can take minutes to a full day before it wears off and you feel completely normal.

Sedation: Pros and Cons

Some of the side effects you may experience before and after a colonoscopy include:

  • Dehydration
  • Bleeding from your rectum
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Infections
  • Hemorrhoids
  • Excessive Gas

During a colonoscopy, most people prefer to be sedated. Sedation definitely helps minimize pain and discomfort. However, for those who are sedated, some are not sedated enough. Let your doctor know if you are experiencing pain, and they can increase the sedation.

Those who are sedated need someone to drive them home after a colonoscopy because it takes time to feel fully aware of their surroundings and what is happening.  They are still loopy and tired.

Whether you are sedated or unconscious, luckily you don’t remember much of what happened during the procedure and for a while afterwards.

Side effects from sedation make some patients choose to forego it. The twists and turns of the colonoscope can cause pain, but some people can handle it without medication. Those who are not sedated can drive home or back to work by themselves.

Pain Can be Prevented

A colonoscopy is not something we look forward to, but it is necessary to evaluate the health of our colon. Thanks to sedation, a colonoscopy does not need to be painful. Even without sedation, patients find it to be more uncomfortable than painful.

Are you at least 50 years old? Have you had a colonoscopy yet? If not, contact your doctor to schedule one.