Colonoscopy (Bowel Examination)

A colonoscopy is a procedure to examine the lining of the large bowel (colon) using a thin flexible, telescope called a colonoscope.  It is useful for finding out what is causing particular bowel symptoms, or as a check-up for certain bowel conditions.

What happens?

Colonoscopy is routinely done as an out-patient or day-case procedure, with no overnight stay. It’s usually performed under sedation to help ensure that you are relaxed and comfortable during the procedure.

Your consultant will carefully pass a colonoscope through your back passage and into the colon.  Some air will be put into your bowel during the examination, to make it easier to see the lining.

During the colonoscopy, photographs and samples (biopsies) of the cells on the inside of the large bowel can be taken. Any polyps can be painlessly removed using a wire loop that is passed down the colonoscope.

A colonoscopy can be uncomfortable, but the sedative will help you feel more relaxed.  A colonoscopy usually takes about one hour to complete, and most people can go home once they have recovered from the effects of the sedative.

What are the risks?

Colonoscopy is a commonly performed and generally safe procedure. However, like all medical procedures, there are some potential risks:

• Breathing difficulties or heart irregularities – a small number of people react to the sedative that is used during a colonoscopy. This can cause temporary breathing or heart problems, however the effects of the sedative are easy to reverse if necessary
• Making a hole in the colon
• Bleeding
• Incomplete procedure.
• During the procedure you may experience some discomfort caused by the air used to assist the transit of the colonoscope around the colon. This usually clears up quite quickly.

Ask your consultant to explain in more detail how any risks apply to you.