A colonoscopy is a safe and common procedure that examines the lining of the colon (also called the large intestine). There are many reasons to have a colonoscopy. One common reason is after a positive fecal immunochemical test (FIT) test to screen for colorectal cancer. Please see the frequently asked questions below for more information on colonoscopy at the VA.
How to prepare for your colonoscopy
Frequently Asked Questions
Colorectal Cancer Screening
- Colorectal cancer is cancer of the colon (the lower digestive tract) and rectum. It is a common and deadly type of cancer.
- Colorectal cancer can be prevented with screening! Cancer is also easier to treat when it is found early.
- At our VA, we use the FIT kit (also called fecal immunochemical test, or stool cancer test) to screen for colorectal cancer.
- If you are between 45 and 75 years of age and have not had a colonoscopy, you should complete a FIT kit each year.
- If the FIT kit is positive, it does not mean that you have cancer. But you will need a colonoscopy to look for pre-cancerous growths or cancer.
- If the FIT kit is negative, you will repeat it every year.
- Screening is for people who have no symptoms of colorectal cancer. If you have symptoms, such as blood in your stool, unexpected weight loss, or constant abdominal pain, talk to your primary care provider about these symptoms.
- Learn more about colorectal cancer and screening here
What is a colonoscopy?
- A colonoscopy is a safe and common procedure that examines the lining of the colon (also called the large intestine).
- It involves inserting a thin, flexible camera into the rectum to view the rectum and colon.
- There are many reasons to have a colonoscopy. One common reason is after a positive FIT screen to look for colorectal cancer.
- A colonoscopy can find polyps, or pre-cancerous growths, and remove the polyps before they develop into cancer. If cancer is already there, finding it early can help your chances for treatment or cure.
- During your colonoscopy, you will be given mild sedation. This means that you will be given medications to help you relax and feel sleepy and to help with discomfort.
- Colonoscopy rarely causes a lot of pain. You may feel pressure, bloating, or cramping in your stomach during the procedure.
- The colonoscopy usually takes less than 30 minutes. However, you should plan to be with us all day for preparation and recovery following the colonoscopy.
How do I prepare for my colonoscopy?
- Scheduling your colonoscopy
- After your primary care provider orders a colonoscopy, our schedulers will call you to schedule the colonoscopy.
- Keep your phone nearby and answer all phone calls. If you are getting your colonoscopy through a community provider instead of the VA, that facility will call you to schedule the colonoscopy.
- If no one has called to schedule your colonoscopy after 1 month, call the GI department at the number at the bottom of the website.
- Once scheduled, you’ll receive a bowel prep kit in the mail. You will drink this prep the evening before your colonoscopy and the morning of your colonoscopy. Your bowels must be empty and clean so the camera can get a clear look inside.
- Once your colonoscopy is scheduled, reach out to friends and family to find someone who can come with you. Because sedation is used for the procedure, you cannot drive after the procedure. You must bring someone with you to the colonoscopy. This person must stay with you and drive you back home after the colonoscopy is done.
- 2 weeks before the colonoscopy:
- If you take blood thinners (for example clopidogrel, ticagrelor, warfarin, lovenox, rivaroxaban, apixaban), ask the doctor who prescribed it to you when you need to stop taking it before the colonoscopy. Your GI doctor will tell you when to restart the blood thinner after the colonoscopy.
- If you have diabetes, ask your primary care provider what to do about your diabetes medications on the day of your procedure. If you take 1 of these diabetic/weight loss injection medications: Liraglutide (Saxenda or Victoza), Semaglutide (Ozempic), or Dulaglutide (Trulicity) then do not take the dose the week of your procedure if you take it weekly or the day of your procedure if you take it every day. Ask your primary care doctor if you have any questions.
- 1 week before the colonoscopy:
- Start a low-fiber diet.
- Avoid nuts, popcorn, whole grains, brown rice, beans, chunky peanut butter, fruits, and vegetables.
- You can eat fish, chicken, eggs, white rice, pasta, white bread, potatoes.
- 2 days before the colonoscopy:
- Avoid foods that are red, orange, purple, or dark in color.
- Stop taking iron pills if you take them.
- Confirm that you have someone who can bring you to the colonoscopy, stay with you all day during the procedure, and take you back home after the colonoscopy.
- 1 day before the colonoscopy:
- Don’t eat any solid foods, darkly colored drinks, or dairy products.
- Don’t drink any alcohol.
- From the morning, drink water and clear liquids only. This includes apple juice, lemonades, clear sodas (Sprite, 7-Up), clear broth, black tea or black coffee (no milk or creamer), jello (no red or purple jello), sports drinks (light colors).
- The evening before the colonoscopy:
- You will begin drinking the Golytely bowel prep the evening before your colonoscopy. You will drink half of it that evening and the rest the next morning.
- Starting at 6 PM, drink 1 cup of Golytely with 1 cup of water until half of the Golytely is finished. Try to finish within 1 hour.
- Continue drinking 1-2 cups of water every hour until bedtime.
- The morning of your colonoscopy:
- Wake up early at 5 AM and finish drinking the rest of the Golytely. Plan to finish the remaining Golytely at least 3 hours before you leave your house to come to the procedure. Drink 1 cup of Golytely with 1 cup of water again until the Golytely is finished.
- Look at your bowel movements. If they are clear and yellow, you are fully prepared and ready for your colonoscopy. If your bowel movements are still brown on the morning of your colonoscopy after drinking the bowel prep, you are not ready. You must call the GI lab for further instructions at the number at the bottom of this website.
- Don’t take any medications that your provider told you to not take, though you can bring them with you. Take your other medications including blood pressure medication.
- Once the Golytely is finished, do NOT eat or drink anything. You may have small sips of water to take your medications.
- Getting to your colonoscopy
- Arrive 30 minutes before your scheduled appointment time.
- The colonoscopy suite is in Room 3A – 300. Take the red elevators to the 3rd floor and you will see the waiting room across from the red elevators labelled “GI/Bronchoscopy Suite”.
- Be prepared to spend ALL DAY with us.
- Do not bring any valuables with you.
- Remember to bring an adult to stay with you all day. If you do not have someone to stay with you and drive you home, we cannot do the colonoscopy.
- After the colonoscopy
- You will be monitored after the colonoscopy.
- You may have some cramping or bloating because of the air put inside the colon by the procedure. This is normal and should go away as you pass gas.
- Your doctor will advise you on findings of the colonoscopy and any restrictions.
- Because of the sedation, you should not do any of the following for the rest of the day after your colonoscopy:
- Drive a car
- Travel alone
- Use machinery
- Sign legal papers
- Drink alcohol
- Follow the GI doctor’s recommendation on when to restart your blood thinner if you had to stop taking the blood thinner.
- Call the GI lab at 713-791-1414, ext. 225152 for any of the following reasons:
- You can no longer make your colonoscopy appointment.
- You cannot find someone to bring you to the appointment and stay with you all day.
- You are not able to complete the bowel preparation.
- You have any questions about what you should or shouldn’t eat.
- Your stool is not yellow and clear on the morning of your colonoscopy.
- Check out the video at the top of the page for more information!
What if the colonoscopy shows something abnormal?
- If your doctor sees something that needs further evaluation, they will obtain a biopsy, or a small sample, of the colon lining to have it examined under a microscope.
- If your doctor sees a polyp, or suspected pre-cancerous lesion, they will remove the polyp.
- If bleeding is seen, your doctor may stop the bleeding through the colonoscope.
- You will be informed if anything abnormal is noted on the colonoscopy or biopsies after the procedure.
What are possible complications of a colonoscopy?
- Although rare, one complication that can occur is a tear through the bowel wall that may require surgery.
- Bleeding may also occur at the site of a biopsy or polyp removal. Usually this is minor and will stop on its own.
- Contact your doctor or come to the ER if you have severe abdominal pain, fever or chills, or continued blood in your stool after the colonoscopy.