We are here to help you prepare for your GI procedure

As common as it is to undergo a colonoscopy, you may still have serious questions if this is the first time your provider has recommended the procedure for you. It can help put you at ease to understand what to expect, and how to prepare.

The purpose of a colonoscopy

A colonoscopy is commonly used as a screening tool to detect colorectal cancer, which is colon cancer or rectal cancer. It is also used to diagnose problematic symptoms that include: bleeding from the rectum; changes in bowel movements (constipation or diarrhea); abdominal pain or unexplained weight loss.

If you choose an alternative screening test for colorectal cancer, instead of a colonoscopy, and the test results are positive, you will be asked to schedule a colonoscopy as a follow-up diagnostic test. Examples of other screening tests include stool tests, flexible sigmoidoscopies, multi-targeted stool DNA tests or computerized tomography (CT) colonographies. However, only during a colonoscopy can colon polyps, growths on the surface of the colon, not only be detected but also removed, reducing the risk of developing colorectal cancer.

Preparing for your colonoscopy: What happens before and after

So how long does a colonoscopy take? Not long at all, for the procedure itself. In fact, the typical colonoscopy takes less than an hour, and may take as little as 15-30 minutes. When you factor in the prep time and recovery time, the full experience takes longer.

What to expect the day before your colonoscopy

Leading up to the colonoscopy, you will need to follow a special diet and clear out your bowels, usually with the assistance of laxatives.

You may find the preparation process uncomfortable because cleaning out your colon usually involves experiencing diarrhea, but the preparation doesn’t hurt and isn’t painful. The colonoscopy prep drink you take the day before your procedure will be part of a bowel-cleansing regimen your provider selects based on your medications and your medical history. Your previous experiences with colonoscopy may also indicate to your doctor which prep drink will be the most safe and effective for you to use.

The good news? Colonoscopy prep drinks taste far better today than the options that previously existed. Your prep drink may even contain friendly and familiar brand name products such as MiraLAX®, Gatorade®, Propel® or Crystal Light.® Your provider will give you instructions to explain how to properly take your prep drink and prepare for your colonoscopy.

What to expect the day of your colonoscopy

Your comfort and safety are our top priorities, and we aim to deliver a positive experience before, during and after your colonoscopy. You will be requested to arrive early the day of your colonoscopy in order to receive sedation. If you are deeply sedated, you will not be awake during a colonoscopy and should experience no pain. You may not even remember the procedure. Throughout your procedure, a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) or anesthesia professional will keep a close eye on your vitals and sedation levels.

Even if you have a colon polyp removed, sedation makes the procedure, called a polypectomy, possible without pain. There are different types of polyps, and they can be either benign, pre-malignant or even cancerous. Polyps can be removed during a colonoscopy, unless they are too large, and then they may need to be removed surgically at a later date.

Here are 5 quick tips to help the day of your colonoscopy go smoothly:

  1. Arrive on time for your appointment: You don’t want to miss your colonoscopy after all of your preparations. It’s a good idea to arrive at least 15 minutes early for your appointment, so be sure to plan ahead for traffic or unexpected delays.
  2. Bring the essentials: You will need a current ID and any insurance cards you want the office to have on file for you. It can also be helpful to bring a list of your current medications, allergies and medical history information so that you don’t forget anything important when you review this information with your doctor or nurses before the procedure.
  3. Wear comfortable clothing: You will be grateful for loose-fitting, comfortable clothes and socks to help you stay warm. You will be changing in and out of a hospital gown for the procedure, and tight-fitting or cumbersome clothing can make this more difficult, particularly after sedation.
  4. Leave valuables at home: You will be asked to remove jewelry for the procedure and might feel more comfortable and secure knowing your valuables are safe at home. You also might feel a bit groggy from sedation and don’t want to forget any of your items, so bringing only the necessities means less to keep track of on the day of your colonoscopy.
  5. Arrange a ride home: For your safety, a friend or family member must drive you home from your procedure. You won’t be allowed to leave the hospital in the care of an Uber® or Lyft® driver, so planning ahead will make sure you can return to the comfort of your home without any unnecessary delays.

What to expect after your colonoscopy

After a colonoscopy, you will need to recover from the effects of the sedation, which usually wear off within 30 minutes, and you may need to rest after your colonoscopy preparations.

You may experience some discomfort and mild pain in the abdominal area as air is relieved from the procedure and leaves your colon. If you had a polypectomy, depending on the extent of the polyps removed, your recovery may take longer, up to 2 weeks, with some bleeding to be expected. In those cases, your doctor can provide pain medication to address any discomfort.

Concerning symptoms that you would want to contact your provider about immediately include:

  • Fever
  • Significant or persistent pain
  • Unexpected bleeding

Why colonoscopy is important

Colorectal cancer is a leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S, and colonoscopies are an important and effective tool for detecting and preventing colorectal cancer. Even when you are at the peak of health, colonoscopies are considered essential preventive care.

As the tragic death of “Black Panther” actor Chadwick Boseman at age 43 so clearly demonstrated, colon cancer doesn’t discriminate based on age, race or social status. Boseman learned he had stage 3 colon cancer in 2016 and died at his home in August of 2020.

As the famous saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” A colonoscopy can literally save your life. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a colonoscopy screening is recommended every 10 years for patients age 45 to age 75. Colonoscopy is a common procedure for patients of that age, but as with every procedure, possible complications can occur that can be serious. That is why it is important to work with a provider you trust.

Request an appointment today with our experienced specialists to learn more and schedule your colonoscopy.

October is Liver Cancer Awareness Month: Remember to keep liver health top of mind this fall

During the COVID-19 pandemic, lung health has been top of mind for many, but what about the health of your other vital organs? October is Liver Cancer Awareness Month, the perfect time to step back and take stock of your liver health. After all, you can’t live without your liver.

Consider for a moment these staggering facts from the American Liver Foundation:

  • Primary liver cancer is the most common type of liver cancer among adults in the United States and is one of the few cancers actually on the rise in the U.S.
  • There are approximately 5.5 million Americans living with chronic liver disease or cirrhosis, life-threatening scarring of the liver that can put you at risk for liver cancer.
  • Each year, approximately 30,000 Americans die of liver cancer.
  • A majority of the 4.4 million Americans living with hepatitis B or C, risk factors for liver cancer, don’t even know that they are affected.

Know the Risk Factors

Who gets liver cancer, and how do you know if you’re at risk for liver cancer?

According to the American Cancer Society, the most common risk factor worldwide for liver cancer is long-term infection with either the Hepatitis B virus (HBV) or the Hepatitis C virus (HCV). Both viruses can develop into chronic hepatitis and carry a high risk of causing cirrhosis, severe scarring of the liver. You can contract either virus at birth if your mother is infected. Otherwise, you are at an increased risk of contracting the viruses from engaging in certain activities such as sharing contaminated needles or having unprotected sexual intercourse. 

Are liver cancer and cirrhosis the same?

Cirrhosis is not the same as liver cancer, but if you have cirrhosis, either from infection or from other causes, you have an increased risk of liver cancer. Other causes of cirrhosis include: 

  • Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease: With nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), excessive amounts of fat are stored in liver cells, which damages the liver and causes cirrhosis. Some of the risk factors for fatty liver disease are obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, obstructive sleep apnea and hypothyroidism.
  • Alcoholic liver disease: Also known as alcoholic hepatitis, this is liver damage caused by drinking more alcohol than your liver can process, creating inflammation that can cause cirrhosis.
  • Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH): A form of NAFLD that is more aggressive than fatty liver and causes liver damage, including cirrhosis, and can lead to liver failure.
  • Hemochromatosis: Excessive amounts of iron are stored in your organs, including the liver, which can become toxic for the body and create liver damage and other serious life-threatening complications. The most common type of hemochromatosis is hereditary.

In addition to putting you at an increased risk for liver cancer, these liver diseases and the associated cirrhosis also can lead to liver failure, which can be life-threatening.

Know the Symptoms

Liver disease and liver cancer don’t always manifest into symptoms until they are in more advanced stages, which makes preventive care of your liver all the more important. 

However, if you have any of the following symptoms, it may be time to speak with a doctor about your liver health:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Decreased appetite
  • A full feeling despite eating a small amount of food
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Itchy skin or jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
  • Abnormal bruising or bleeding
  • Swelling of the abdomen
  • Swelling of the legs and ankles
  • Changes in the color of your urine (dark) or stool (pale)
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Abdominal pain
  • Pain near the right shoulder blade or in the back
  • Visibly enlarged veins on the belly
  • A feeling of fullness under the ribs on either the right side (enlarged liver) or the left side (enlarged spleen)
  • Fever

This type of cancer doesn’t typically cause chest pain, but if the cancer becomes advanced and spreads to your lungs, that can cause chest pain

Know When to Take Action to Protect Your Liver

If you have any concerns about the health of your liver, it’s time to take action. Early detection and treatment of liver disease can prevent further damage to your liver and decrease your risk of developing cancer or other life-threatening complications such as liver failure.

Can liver cancer be cured? How is the disease treated?

In its early stage, it may be possible to cure liver cancer with surgery to remove the diseased part of your liver, if the rest of your liver is healthy. You may also be a candidate for a liver transplant in early stages, whether the rest of your liver is healthy or not. 

As the cancer advances, it can spread to the lymph nodes or to other organs. According to the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, it is not common for advanced liver cancer to metastasize, or spread, but if it does, it is most likely to affect the lungs and bones.

The more advanced the cancer, the more difficult it is to cure, but there are therapies and medications that may help shrink liver tumors, reduce symptoms and hopefully even prolong life for those who are fighting cancer.

How to Take Action

So how do you find out if your liver is healthy?

You should speak with a trusted provider who can help you understand your options for testing for liver disease.

For example, blood tests can be used to detect hepatitis B and C and to check for some indicators of liver cancer. 

In the past, liver biopsies were heavily relied on to detect cirrhosis and liver cancer, but we can now quickly and easily determine if you have liver damage or cirrhosis with a non-invasive FibroScan. The typical FibroScan exam, which is similar to an ultrasound, takes only 5-10 minutes. 

Click here to request an appointment and start making your liver health a top priority.