Don'T Fall For These Three Myths About Colonoscopies

Colonoscopies are screening test used to detect colon cancer, but many people don't undergo this recommended procedure. Myths about the procedure contribute to the reluctance to undergo colonoscopies. Here are three myths that you should not believe about colonoscopies.

Colonoscopies are painful

During your exam, your doctor will insert a long device known as a colonoscope into your rectum. This device is long enough to examine your entire colon, so you may imagine that this investigation would be very painful. However, this is just a myth.

Before your procedure begins, your doctor will give you an intravenous pain medication so that you don't feel any pain. You'll also be given a sedative so that you feel more relaxed. During the test, you may feel like you need to have a bowel movement or like you have some cramping in your stomach, but you don't need to worry about major pain.

Colonoscopies are dangerous

You may have heard that colonoscopies can lead to complications like bowel perforation, but fortunately, serious complications like this are very rare. About one third of patients will experience mild gastrointestinal complications afterwards, like gas or diarrhea, but it's very unlikely that you will experience anything more serious.

Large studies have shown that bowel perforations occur in 0.3% or less of patients, while hemorrhages occur in between 0.1% in 0.6% of patients. Your lifetime risk of getting colorectal cancer is significantly greater than the risk of having a colonoscopy complication: the risk is 4.7% for men and 4.4% for women. Keeping these numbers in mind, it's more dangerous to skip your colonoscopy than to have the procedure done.

Colonoscopies are hard to prepare for

Your bowels will need to be completely empty to allow your doctor to get a good look at the inside of your colon, and you may have heard that emptying them will be very difficult. It's true that you'll need to drink a foul-tasting laxative to loosen your bowels, but the resulting diarrhea will not be as bad as you imagine it will be.

This is because for the few days before your colonoscopy, you won't be able to eat high-fiber foods, and the day before your colonoscopy, you'll be able to eat solid foods at all. On this final day, you'll be limited to clear liquids like broths, and this day of fasting will mean that your diarrhea will not be particularly copious. It still a good idea to take the day off work so that you can go to the bathroom whatever you need to, but you will not be trapped on the toilet all day long.

If you have never undergone a colonoscopy, don't let myths about the procedure scare you away from this life-saving screening test. For more information, contact Northwest Gastroenterology Associates or a similar organization.