Procedure at UNC Health Blue Ridge Digestive Health

Each year, about 19 million colonoscopies are performed in the United States. This screening test saves lives: It can detect colon cancer and polyps that may lead to colon cancer, as well as identify causes of abdominal pain. Despite the temporary discomfort of the procedure and preparation, a colonoscopy is a minor inconvenience that offers big, life-saving potential.

What is a Colonoscopy?

During a colonoscopy, your doctor examines your colon (your large intestine) using a colonoscope, which is a tube with lights and a camera on the end. The doctor will insert the tube into your rectum and maneuver it through the length of the large intestine. Channels in the colonoscope allow the doctor to insert liquid or air into the colon to get a better picture.

Who Needs a Colonoscopy?

You need a colonoscopy for colorectal cancer screening if you are between 45 and 75 years old. You may need a colonoscopy earlier, however, if you have a family history of colon cancer. Ask your doctor for recommendations for your specific health condition and history. This screening is vital: Colon cancer is highly curable when it is detected early.

Your doctor may also recommend a colonoscopy if you have symptoms such as bleeding, abdominal pain or changes in your bowel habits. Be sure to share any symptoms such as these with your doctor.

After your first colonoscopy, your doctor will tell you when you will need to repeat the procedure. In some cases, you may not need another colonoscopy for ten years.

What to Expect During a Colonoscopy

How to Prepare

Preparation for your colonoscopy begins the day before, when you begin a liquid diet of clear liquids, like broth and juice. You may also have gelatin desserts and ice pops. You should not eat or drink anything that is red or purple.

During the afternoon or evening of your prep day, you will start the next stage of preparation: cleaning out your colon. To do this, you’ll drink a solution that makes you move your bowels until you are passing nothing but clear liquid. This step is important because fecal matter that remains in the colon may prevent your doctor from seeing the insides of your intestine clearly. You should follow your doctor's instructions for this step carefully.

After your first bowel movement, clean the rectal area with water or with moist wipes. If you need to use toilet paper, dab gently. Then use petroleum jelly or a suitable ointment. Do this after each bowel movement to avoid soreness. Soon the bowel movements will slow down in frequency until they stop.

Sometimes your doctor may prescribe a split dose procedure, in which you drink half of the bowel prep solution the next morning. Your doctor will tell you which schedule to follow and offer specific instructions.

What to Know About the Procedure

You will need someone to drive you home from the hospital, so ask a friend or family member to take you to your procedure. When you arrive at the hospital, your care team will have you sign paperwork and take your vitals. If you have questions or concerns about the procedure or recovery, please feel free to discuss those with your care team. For comfort, patients are lightly sedated for the procedure, either through an IV or with oral medication.

After the Procedure

After your procedure, you should wake up quickly, although you may still feel sleepy. You may have gas and some mild cramping. Passing gas is a natural result of air being inserted in your colon, and it’s a common occurrence after a colonoscopy.

Your doctor or a staff member will give you a preliminary report on what the doctor found during the procedure. The staff will offer you juice or water, and soon you will be allowed to go home. You can resume a normal diet immediately, although your first meal shouldn't be too heavy. You shouldn’t drink alcohol or drive for the rest of the day.


The main purpose of having a screening colonoscopy is to look for polyps in the colon. These are growths on the lining of the intestine, and oftentimes, these have no potential of becoming cancerous. The doctor may remove them anyway, just to be sure. Other polyps, called adenomas, have the potential to become cancerous. Removal of adenomas is one of the best ways to prevent colon cancer.

Most polyps can be removed during a colonoscopy. Instruments can be inserted down one of the channels of the colonoscope to remove polyps quickly and painlessly. The doctor will send any tissue removed to a lab for analysis. If the lab finds cancerous cells, your doctor will contact you to discuss further treatment.

Most people over 50 have colon polyps, so don’t worry if the doctor finds one or more. The doctor will tell you when you will need to repeat your colonoscopy, based upon the number, type and size of polyps found.

Our Blue Ridge Digestive Health Providers

You can have your colonoscopy without leaving area. Blue Ridge Digestive Health, part of UNC Health Blue Ridge, will be happy to help you schedule your procedure at one of our five locations – Morganton, Valdese, Lenoir, Marion and Hickory. Our professionals in digestive health can answer all your questions about colorectal cancer screening.

Providers at our office are dedicated to meeting your health care needs throughout your life. The doctors and other professionals in our gastroenterology department are well-trained and experienced in colorectal cancer screening and polyp removal. Call 828-580-6752 or 828-580-7048 today to learn more about having your colonoscopy.

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