Colonoscopies help detect abnormalities in the digestive tract by allowing doctors to get a video image of the intestines. Essentially, a colonoscopy involves viewing the intestines via through a colonoscope that is equipped with a video camera and inserted via the rectum. This allows the intestines to be visually examined for any issues. If the procedure reveals any abnormal tissues, then tissue samples can be taken at the same time.
A colonoscopy is an excellent tool for both exclusion and diagnosis of gastrointestinal disorders, though one of its primary functions is as a screening tool. With age, gastrointestinal problems become more common, and some may not have any symptoms while it’s still early enough to correct the issue. Some diseases and disorders that affect the gastrointestinal tract are potentially deadly.
Who should get a colonoscopy?
Colonoscopies are recommended as a part of routine screening in older adults, typically after the age of 50. Your doctor may wish to perform the procedure as often as every year, or as infrequently as every 10 years, depending on your overall health and history. Colonoscopies should also be done regularly if you have a family history of gastrointestinal problems, especially colorectal cancer. Any alarming symptoms that indicate the digestive system will also precipitate a colonoscopy and/or endoscopy, which looks at the upper digestive tract.
Symptoms that may trigger a colonoscopy recommendation include severe abdominal pains or cramping, chronic diarrhea, bloody stools or other such unexplained issues. If the severe pain is accompanied by an inability to void for an extended period of time, even with laxative treatment, then it is considered an emergency that must be treated immediately.
Importance of colonoscopies
Colorectal cancer ranks high among the silent killers of the cancer world. At one time, this type of cancer had one of the highest mortality rates, and many survivors suffered malnutrition after losing significant portions of the gastrointestinal tract. The primary reason for such dismal outcomes was because it may go without symptoms for years, being detected only when the tumors grow to the point of obstruction or perforation. As routine colonoscopies have become more common, the mortality rates associated with colorectal cancer have taken a nosedive. When discovered in its early stages, the cancer is relatively easy to treat; many people make a complete recovery and live for many years afterward.
Colonoscopies can detect a number of other issues in the lower digestive tract as well. Alarming symptoms can mean a wide range of different issues, including Crohn’s disease, food intolerance and intestinal twisting. Many of the problems that may plague the colon are easily detectable through a colonoscope.
What to expect with a colonoscopy
Your doctor will give you a thorough set of instructions prior to your colonoscopy, as well as certain choices associated with the procedure. Depending on the resources in the clinic or hospital where it will be done, you may have a choice of varying levels of anesthesia. It is also very important that the digestive tract be empty at the time of the procedure. You will receive instructions regarding when you must abstain from food prior to the procedure, and will probably have to bring a colon cleansing solution home the night before. The procedure itself should be painless with the chosen anesthetic, though some cramping afterward is normal, especially if you had a biopsy.