Every 2 Years - Another Colonoscopy

“We’re going to administer this sedative that will make you feel sleepy,” said the nurse with the bright, white, toothy grin. “Yeah, I know. I’m just going to take a nap,” I replied as I slipped slowly into the ethers of slumber. I’m lying on a hospital gurney, feeling cold in my thin regulatory hospital gown covered in a thin sheet. I wonder as I doze off, “How many colonoscopies have I had over the course of my ulcerative colitis (UC) journey?”

Colonoscopy every 2 years

After living with colitis since my early teens, I’ve been on the "get a colonoscopy every two years” regimen since as far back as I can remember. Okay, full disclosure: maybe sometimes I got off track and delayed the process a little. Let’s face it: it’s a challenge for the average person with a normal colon to get a colonoscopy a couple of times in their entire lifetime. But for folks like me, living with IBD requires the “scope” procedure more often than renewing a driver’s license.

So, just a couple of weeks ago, I had my 500th scope, and I must confess, it never gets any easier. Again, I jest about the number, but it sure feels like I’ve had the procedure a gazillion times. And the older I get, one would think I’d be used to it. But at age (cough, cough) …54, I can attest it doesn’t get easier. As a matter of fact, I had a few revelations this time around, but I’ll get to that momentarily.

What to expect

First, if you’re newly diagnosed with either Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis, let me bring you good tidings of great joy by telling you to expect ingesting a tasty “nuclear” laxative every 1 to 3 years. Yes, you read that correctly.

Because I’ve had active UC since age 19 and because I have a family history of colorectal cancer, I get the pleasure of going home with beautiful photos of my colon every two years. Side note: I have a lovely photo album filled with these colon pics. Imagine if I posted those on social media! Wouldn’t that be lovely?

The procedure

Again, if you’re new to IBD, let me explain the procedure. First, a colonoscopy is an exam in the large intestine (colon) and rectum. Physicians can get a better look through this process at swollen, inflamed/irritated tissues, polyps, or cancer. The screening requires a patient to prep the day before with a liquid diet and the ingestion of certain prescribed medicines or laxatives that clean out your digestive system.

During the procedure, a long, flexible tube—called a colonoscope—is inserted into the rectum. This scope contains a tiny video camera at the tip that allows the doctor to see inside the entire colon.

Also, throughout this process, the physician might remove polyps or other types of abnormal tissue if found. In addition, tissue samples—called biopsies—can be taken. These biopsies get sent to a lab for analysis. The scope is long enough to travel the entire length of your colon. In order to do this, the doctor will pump air, carbon dioxide, or water into your colon to inflate it, which offers a better view of the colon lining. All total, the procedure usually takes anywhere from 30-60 minutes.

Recovery

After the exam, you will need a little time to recover from the administered sedative. This means you’ll need someone to drive you home because it can take about an entire day for the effects of the sedative to wear off. Most physicians will not allow you to drive for 24-hours.

Other notes of interest include the bloating and gas effects post-procedure. Everyone will tell you to walk around as much as possible to relieve the discomfort of trapped air in your colon. I’ll be honest: It took me two full days of trying to “clear the air” from my system. Maybe my age makes a difference, but I felt like I looked 7 months pregnant with my bloated gut. Plus, I wasn’t sure if I would ever get all the air out, and I walk more than 15,000 steps a day. By day 2 post-colonoscopy, I finally started feeling a bit more comfortable in my pants.

In addition, you might also notice a small amount of blood during your first bowel movement after the exam. Usually this is just a result of the irritated colon. But, if you continue to pass blood or blood clots, feel abdominal pain, and experience a fever, then you should contact your doctor. For me, I noticed it took about 4 days before I had my first bowel movement. I did experience a small amount of blood, but I’ll just keep my eye out as the days continue.

Colonoscopy lessons learned

After a good 2-3 decades of getting colonoscopies, I’ve learned a few lessons about the whole process.

Age

First, age does matter. I realize this time—at age 54—that it has taken me longer to rebound from the procedure. When I was younger, I returned to full-on energy a few hours after leaving the medical facility. I used to leave the procedure and go eat a big meal to restore my body’s fuel tank, and the energy returned fast. But now, I need to nap afterwards. The sedative is a bit more challenging to rebound from quickly. Even a couple days after the fact, my energy still hadn’t reached a full tank.

Gas

Secondly, I learned that drinking plenty of water and walking around at this age doesn’t make the gas pains disappear any faster. Nope, my body takes longer to remove the air. Believe me, I exercise every day, and the exercise alone wouldn’t push the air out any faster. (Why does everything slow down with age?)

Digestion

Thirdly, my digestive system takes longer to “get back on track.” What used to take maybe 1-2 days, now took double the time. No matter how many times I massaged my gut, it wasn’t ready to digest fully until it was ready. So, be patient with your body. I had to keep reminding myself of that message.

Prepping

Another method I did this time around was to limit my food and drink intake. Two days before the colonoscopy, I limited how much food I ate. Then, during the actual prep day, I mainly stuck to drinking liquids—water and Gatorade. I’ve learned over the years that what you take in, must come out. So, the day before, I didn’t drink a bunch of broth or munch on popsicles or Jell-O like I used to in the past. This time I stuck to just water and clear Gatorade. Honestly, I think that made the “cleaning out” process a bit easier. Or maybe it was all in my head.

Peace of mind

Finally, I know this to be true: Colonoscopies are one of the best methods physicians have for cancer prevention. Excluding the bowel prep, the procedure itself is easy. Just take a nap and let the doctor take all the pictures he/she needs to take. Granted, with age comes a slower recovery, but I’ll take that any day over a cancer diagnosis.

I think the inconvenience of a colonoscopy is worth the peace of mind.

What are your thoughts about colonoscopies? Share your experience here and let us know how quickly you recover from the process.

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Treatment results and side effects can vary from person to person. This treatment information is not meant to replace professional medical advice. Talk to your doctor about what to expect before starting and while taking any treatment.
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