Preparing for a Colonoscopy
Adults should get their first colonoscopy at age 45 unless you are at higher risk for colorectal cancer. One example of increased risk is having a first-degree relative that has had colorectal cancer (for example, your mother, father, sister or brother). If your first colonoscopy is clear, you don’t need to get another one until 10 years later.
Preparing for a colonoscopy can start seven days before your appointment. The following is a checklist for what you’ll need to prepare for your appointment.
7 Days Before: Stock Up
You will need to stock up on certain items to prepare for your colonoscopy. It’s best to get this out of the way about a week prior to your procedure.
Laxatives – Your doctor may prescribe a laxative. Purchase the product that your doctor recommends. You’ll need at least 8 cups of a drink (64 ounces) to take your laxative, so plan accordingly. Sports drinks or light-colored, flavored beverages can help make taking the medication easier.
Moist wipes – To soothe your skin, you may need moist or medicated wipes. Regular toilet paper may be too irritating.
Diaper cream – A diaper cream like Desitin may help to prevent skin irritation from frequent trips to the bathroom. You can use this cream daily throughout your prep leading up to your procedure.
Approved foods and sports drinks – During the week prior to your procedure, you should eat foods that are easier to pass and less likely to cause constipation.
Stock up on items that include:
○ low-fiber foods
○ clear fruit juices
○ frozen pops
3-5 Days Before: Diet Adjustments
Five days before your colonoscopy, you should start adjusting your diet to help make your preparation easier on your body. Stop taking any fiber supplements and anti-diarrheal medication. You should begin eating foods that are easier to pass, like:
○ white bread
○ lean meats like chicken and fish
○ well-cooked veggies without the skin
○ fruit without skin or seeds
Soft foods – Switching to a soft-food diet at least 48 hours before the colonoscopy may make your preparation easier. Soft foods include:
○ scrambled eggs
○ vegetable purees and soups
○ soft fruits, like bananas
You will also want to avoid certain foods that may be hard to digest, including:
○ fatty, fried foods
○ tough meats
○ whole grains
○ seeds, nuts, and grains
○ raw vegetables
○ vegetable skins
○ fruit with seeds or skins
○ broccoli, cabbage, or lettuce
○ beans and peas
Be sure to ask your doctor if you can continue to take your prescription or over-the-counter medications during your prep or if you should stop until after the procedure. This includes vitamins, supplements and other medications that you take each day.
The Day Before: Liquid Diet
Your body needs to get rid of all waste from your colon before your colonoscopy. It’s critical that you switch to a liquid-only diet the entire day before your procedure. If your colon isn’t clear, your doctor may have to reschedule the appointment for a later date. That means you’ll need to prep again at a later date.
It’s important to stay hydrated during this time. You can eat and drink any clear liquids you want, but a good rule of thumb to follow is eight ounces per hour that you’re awake. Be sure to avoid liquids or eat any foods with red, orange, blue or purple food dye while prepping for your procedure.
The Night Before: Laxative
To be sure that any remaining waste is cleared from your colon, your doctor may prescribe a strong laxative. Most doctors now recommend a split dose of laxatives. You take half the mixture the evening before your procedure, and you finish the second half six hours before your procedure. If your procedure is early in the morning, you may begin the process 12 hours before you’re scheduled to start your colonoscopy and finish the dose before midnight.
The laxative may be difficult to swallow because of a bitter taste. Try these techniques to make it easier:
- Mix it with a sports drink to cover unpleasant tastes.
- Chill it. Mix the drink and laxative 24 hours before you’re set to begin the prep. Refrigerate it so the drinks are cold. Chilled drinks are sometimes easier to swallow.
- Use a straw. Place the straw at the back of your throat where you’re less likely to taste it when swallowing.
- Chase it. Squeeze a bit of lemon or lime juice in your mouth after you drink the laxative to kill the taste. You can also use hard candy.
- Add flavorings. Ginger, lime, and other aromatics add a lot of flavor to liquids. That may make drinking the laxative more pleasant.
Once you take the laxative, your intestines will begin pushing out any remaining waste very quickly. This will cause frequent, forceful diarrhea. It can also cause:
- Abdominal discomfort
- If you have hemorrhoids, they may become inflamed and irritated.
You’ll be spending a lot of time in the bathroom. To help make you more comfortable during this process, you may want to bring a computer, tablet or book with you to the bathroom. And use the comfort products that you purchased earlier in the week, like the wipes and creams.
2 Hours Before: No Eating or Drinking
Don’t drink anything — even water — two hours before your procedure. This step is important to help prevent you from getting sick after your procedure. People who drink right before the procedure risk getting sick and breathing vomit into their lungs. Some hospitals request a longer window without liquids, so follow their instructions.
While the prep for a colonoscopy and the recovery may be uncomfortable and inconvenient, the alternative is much worse. You do not want to risk not finding and diagnosing potential problems, including colon cancer.
Be sure to follow any directions your doctor provides, and don’t be afraid to ask if you have any questions.