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Colorectal Cancer Health Center

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Colonoscopy Prep Worse Than Procedure

Patients Report More Discomfort From Colonoscopy Preparation Than From Colonoscopy
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

May 16, 2008 -- Preparing for colonoscopy is more uncomfortable than the procedure itself, a new poll shows.

In colonoscopy, a doctor guides a thin, flexible tube capped with a tiny camera through the colon to look for tumors or other abnormalities. Colonoscopy or other colon cancer screening tests are recommended for everyone starting at age 50 and earlier for people at high risk for colon cancer.

The new poll, conducted by the Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care Institute for Quality Improvement (AAAHC Institute) from August to November 2007, included nearly 2,500 U.S. colonoscopy patients at 107 institutions. They rated their colonoscopy experience, starting with colonoscopy preparation, which can involve following a liquid diet and using laxatives to clean out the colon before colonoscopy.

Most patients -- 66% -- reported no discomfort or minimal discomfort from colonoscopy preparation. An additional 19% reported medium discomfort, 8% reported "almost severe" discomfort, and 7% reported severe discomfort from colonoscopy preparation.

As for the colonoscopy procedure itself, which involves getting anesthesia, the vast majority of patients -- 88% -- reported no discomfort. An additional 8% reported low levels of discomfort, 2% reported a medium amount of discomfort, 1% reported almost severe discomfort, and 1% reported severe discomfort.

In the poll, patients were asked if they would have another colonoscopy, if recommended. Of the 1,870 patients who answered that question, 98% said yes. The rare patients who said no were particularly likely to have reported high levels of discomfort from preparing for colonoscopy.

Tips for Colonoscopy Preparation

In a news release, the AAAHC Institute provides these tips on preparing for colonoscopy:

  • Discuss your concerns with your doctor, nurse, or other health care provider.
  • Make sure you get clear, written instructions about colonoscopy preparation, and follow those instructions carefully. Poor preparation may mean having to repeat the test.
  • Limit your activities; be prepared to spend several hours in the bathroom the evening before your colonoscopy.
  • Call your doctor if you have any trouble, such as vomiting or abdominal pain, or if you don't understand the instructions.

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