How to Prepare for Your First Colonoscopy

Having your first colonoscopy can be a little scary. But there’s nothing to feel afraid of when undergoing this important procedure, which looks for signs of colorectal cancer.

Colonoscopies are no fun, but they are very important. Colorectal cancer is the third most common type of cancer in women and men, and it is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. Catching it early can save your life.

Dr. Maria Palafox has performed many colonoscopies, and she understands that these tests can be stressful. To help put your mind at ease, she would like to share some information with you about what you can expect before and during your first colonoscopy.

Timing your colonoscopy

The American Cancer Society recommends that people with an average risk of colorectal cancer start having screening tests such as a colonoscopy at age 45.

Dr. Palafox may advise you to have your first colonoscopy earlier if you have certain risk factors, such as a personal history of radiation to your abdomen or pelvic area to treat a previous cancer or a family history of colorectal cancer.

Preparing for your colonoscopy

During your colonoscopy, Dr. Palafox uses a scope with a tiny camera to peer inside your rectum and colon. She is looking for inflamed tissue and polyps, which are growths that can turn into cancer.

For the best results, your colon and rectum must be as empty as possible during your colonoscopy. By following what’s known as a “bowel prep” process, you can make sure your colon and rectum are cleaned out before the test.

Dr. Palafox provides you with very specific written bowel prep instructions before your colonoscopy. A few days before, you start eating a low-fiber diet. You must stay away from nuts, whole grains, seeds, raw fruits and vegetables, and dried fruit.

The day before your colonoscopy, you cut out solid foods and consume only liquids such as water, clear broth, ice pops, and gelatin.

The afternoon or evening before your colonoscopy you drink special liquids that trigger diarrhea. This is unpleasant, but it’s a necessary step to clean out your colon and rectum. Dr. Palafox’s written instructions tell you exactly what kind of laxative to use and when and how much to take.

Most patients like to use pre-moistened wipes to clean up after diarrhea. Diaper cream can ease burning and pain around your anus; however, it’s very important to follow Dr. Palafox’s instructions on what kind of cream to use and when to stop using it.

The day of your procedure

When you arrive for your procedure, you receive medication that puts you to sleep. Once you’re asleep, Dr. Palafox inserts a colonoscope (a long, flexible instrument) into your rectum and moves it to the far end of your colon.

The scope blows air into your colon to make it easier for Dr. Palafox to maneuver the scope and see the inside of your colon.

If Dr. Palafox sees anything abnormal during the exam, she takes tissue samples (biopsies) and removes any small polyps she sees. Any polyps or tissue samples go to the lab, where a technician checks them for cancer.

After your procedure

Your colonoscopy takes only about 30-60 minutes. When you’re finished, Dr. Palafox’s team monitors you for up to an hour. Then you can go home.

Because of the medication you receive during your colonoscopy, you must arrange to have someone to drive you home. You cannot drive yourself.

Receiving your results

Dr. Palafox shares the results of your colonoscopy with you, either when you wake up after the procedure or within a few days after your test. Most people have no problems that require any treatment.


To learn more about colonoscopy — whether and when you need to have one and how best to prepare for it — call one of Dr. Palafox’s San Antonio offices or book an appointment online.

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