Cleansing the colon before a colonoscopy is called bowel preparation or “prep.” One of the keys to a successful colonoscopy is a clean bowel. If your colon lining is clear of solid and liquid, it allows your doctor to see any abnormalities – such as polyps and lesions – that may be present in your bowel. Although cleansing your bowel may not give you a pleasant experience, it is important that you complete the bowel prep as instructed by your doctor. Otherwise, potential complications could be missed. Your doctor may also need to repeat the exam and this could mean doing the prep all over again.
What are the types of bowel prep?
There are different types of bowel prep and your doctor will recommend the type of bowel preparation that works best for you. Bowel prep consists of two parts: diet and drinking the bowel-cleansing agent (laxative).
The diet consists of low-fiber foods and clear liquids. As for the medication, there are different bowel-cleansing agents available and your doctor will recommend the best one for your requirements. The medication is taken orally and can come in a form of liquid, powder, or tablet.
Two of the most commonly prescribed bowel prep medications are:
- Polyethylene glycol – requires a prescription and taken orally. It comes in a powder form and should be mixed with water before use. This is best for patients with kidney, heart and liver diseases.
- Sodium phosphate – requires a prescription and taken orally. It comes in a tablet form.
As long as the right type of bowel prep is followed, this process is generally safe for most patients.
How does your doctor determine the right bowel prep for you?
Your doctor will look at your medical condition to help him/her determine the type of prep that will suit you best. This is the stage where you have to disclose any current and previous medical conditions to your doctor, including high blood pressure, history of bowel obstruction, diseases in the heart, kidney or liver as well as allergies to medications.
It is also crucial to inform your doctor if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Other than examining your medical history, your doctor will also consider personal preferences and costs to help him/her identify the right bowel prep for you. Make sure to check with your medical insurance if they can cover your bowel prep.
How to prepare for colonoscopy
A clean and empty bowel makes for a more effective and efficient procedure. Generally, you will start preparing for your colonoscopy three to four days prior to the procedure. Here are a few essential steps for a good bowel prep.
Change Your Diet
A few days before you take the bowel-cleansing agent, you will need to tweak your diet. Your doctor will recommend low-fiber foods that are easily digestible. This may include eggs, lean meat, white bread, well-cooked vegetables without skin and fruit without skin. Avoid whole grains, seeds, nuts and raw fruits and vegetables.
Consume Clear Liquids
One day before the colonoscopy, you will need to switch to clear liquids. Stick to beverages that you can see through such as apple juice and sports drinks. While you can have gelatin and ice pops, you have to stay away from colored liquids as they can discolor the lining of the colon and make it difficult for your doctor to examine it. Furthermore, ensure that you stay hydrated during the entire process. Consume more fluids than you usually do but be sure not to drink anything two hours before the colonoscopy.
Take Prescribed Meds
If you are currently taking medications, make sure to ask your doctor whether there is a need to stop them. While most medications can be continued, some medications can interfere with the examination, like arthritis, anti-inflammatory and blood thinner meds as well as insulin and iron products. Depending on your doctor’s advice, you may either stop them for the time being or reduce their dosage. If in case you forget to take your medication for bowel prep, inform your doctor about it immediately.
Follow All Instructions
The exact bowel prep instructions depend on the type of bowel prep your doctor has chosen for you. Make sure to read through the instructions carefully and completely as soon as you receive them. If there is anything you do not understand, contact your doctor immediately to clarify any confusion. It is important that you follow all the instructions your doctor gives you, including the duration of your diet, the dosage of your bowel prep medications, and the timing of your prep.
What are the common side effects of bowel prep?
The side effects vary from one patient to another. What one may experience may not happen to you. Side effects also depend on the type of bowel prep prescribed to you. Your doctor should explain the possible side effects you may experience.
Once the laxative starts working, you will find yourself frequenting the toilet. Expect forceful diarrhea. Other common side effects include cramps or abdominal pain and bloating. You may also feel nauseated and even vomit.
The process before your colonoscopy is not easy. But by preparing well, your doctor will be able to easily detect any signs of trouble and your colonoscopy will go faster.