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How Do I Prepare for a Colonoscopy?

By Sarah Densmore

While the “colon prep,” as it is commonly called, involves an inconvenient 1- or 2-day liquid diet and a bathroom camp out, it's a necessary step toward ensuring your continued colon health. Properly flushing out your large intestine before undergoing a colonoscopy allows your doctor to see your colon clearly and identify any abnormalities, including cancerous polyps.

Your doctor will give you detailed prep instructions when you make your colonoscopy appointment but, generally, there are a couple procedures you should expect to follow.

Stick to a liquid diet before a colonoscopy

Because solid waste material will interfere with the colonoscopy image, you’ll have to confine your diet to liquids for 1 to 3 days before the test. Blue, purple and red beverages aren’t allowed, because they can be confused with blood in your colon. However, you can have

  • Broth

  • Plain tea or coffee (no cream or milk)

  • Popsicles

  • Pulp-free fruit juice

  • Sports drinks

  • Water

The closest thing to solid food you’ll be permitted to eat is lemon-, lime-, or orange-flavored gelatin.

Some drugs such as aspirin, blood thinners, vitamins containing iron, glucose, and anti-inflammatories can interfere with colonoscopy results. Be sure to tell your doctor about all the medications you’re taking. He may ask you to temporarily adjust your dosage.

Flush with a enema or laxative

Either the night before or the morning of your test you’ll need to flush out your large intestine to make sure no waste material remains.

Your doctor will tell you whether he wants you to use an enema or laxative. He will probably tell you which specific product to buy since some are made for colonoscopy prep.

An enema will allow you to flush out your colon by squeezing water up into your large intestine via your anus. You’ll use a special enema bag with a pre-lubricated tip to inject the water.

If you’re using a laxative, you’ll either take pills followed by lots of water or you’ll drink a liquid. If you use a liquid laxative, plan on drinking several cups at specific intervals. It doesn’t taste good, but you can make it more palatable by using ice cold water and adding some flavored drink powder.

You’re going to swallow large amounts of laxative and it’s going to move through you fairly quickly. Make sure you wear pants you can easily take on and off. Stay very close to, or in, the bathroom. Make yourself at home with some magazines or a portable television. Have some petroleum jelly or some adult wet wipes containing lotion handy to soothe any skin irritation.

You’ll be given a mild sedative and pain medication before your colonoscopy begins, which means you won’t be able to drive yourself home after the procedure. Make sure you have a friend or family member with you who will drive you home and plan on taking the day off from work.

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