Magnesium citrate

What It’s Like to Get a Colonoscopy and Why You Shouldn’t Fear It

Getting a colonoscopy may seem like a pretty big deal. You have to fast for a day or so, then clear your bowels by drinking something that induces diarrhea. Most folks get general anesthesia for the procedure, and the hospital experience resembles that of getting minor surgery.

My doctor recommended that I get a colonoscopy even though I’m not fifty yet because I have a family history of colon cancer (my dad died from it in 2015).  I wasn’t really looking forward to it due to all of the apparent unpleasantness of the procedure.

But now having gone through it, I can say that although all of those things are true, it’s not nearly as bad as it sounds!!  You should not delay getting it if your doctor tells you to get one!

I need to emphasize, however, that I’m not a doctor and your experience may differ from mine. I just wanted to share what happened to me.

Preparation

Preparation is very important to make sure your bowels are clear for the procedure!  If you don’t follow directions, the whole procedure might have to be re-done. Each doctor’s instructions may differ, but my doctor had me limit food intake to specific types and quantities of food starting with the day before the procedure. 

For breakfast, I was allowed to have two eggs and a waffle, then udon for lunch.

That evening I had to skip dinner and drink a bottle of magnesium citrate mixed with ginger ale to start clearing my digestive tract.  The one I got had a very lemony taste.  I wouldn’t drink it for fun, but it certainly wasn’t horrible-tasting.

I also tried the cherry-flavored version, but I recommend the lemon.

Magnesium citrate
Two types of magnesium citrate sold over-the-counter at your local drug store

Later that night I had to drink another bottle and a lot of water after that.

Induced diarrhea sounds awful, but it wasn’t that bad, especially since I skipped dinner and followed the dietary instructions closely. I think I took four or five trips to the bathroom before going to bed that night.

Yes, there was some fasting, but I didn’t get that hungry because I was still able to drink ginger ale and clear soup.  And the induced “diarrhea” wasn’t that bad either.

Be sure to follow your doctor’s preparation instructions very carefully. There’s no way to hide it if you don’t!

The Procedure

Most people elect to have general anesthesia and be unconscious for the procedure. The anesthesia they use is less powerful than what they would use for a major surgery.

The experience at the hospital is the same as going into surgery though. You fill out a bunch of forms and change into a gown.  They start an I.V. (if you’re scared of needles, it’s much thinner than the needle they use to take blood samples, so it’s not bad at all), and they wheel you into the hospital room.

From there, I remember them talking about the anesthesia, then after that, I passed out pretty quickly.  At no point did I feel any pain!

The procedure took less than an hour.

My Results

When I woke up, they wheeled me into another room where my wife was waiting for me.  The doctor came in to explain the results.  He had found and removed three medium-sized polyps.  They were not cancerous, but they were “pre-cancerous”, so it was really good that I had them removed.

colonoscopy images
My colonoscopy images. Images 1, 3, and 5 show polyps. 4, and 6 show the areas after polyp removal. 7 shows a clip after polyp removal.

With my family history and the fact that I had three polyps before age 50, he told me I should get a colonoscopy every three years.  Most people only need them every five or ten years.

But, I was glad to get it taken care of, and given how easy the procedure was, I didn’t mind knowing I’d have to do it again relatively soon.  There are much worse things to have to do.

The Recovery

Although I felt alert after the procedure, I started feeling drowsy a bit later and took a nap when I got home.  I was definitely glad I followed their instructions and did not try to drive home afterward!

Other than the drowsiness, I had no other ill effects.

Please Do It If Your Doctor Recommends It

Honestly, the most painful part of the procedure was peeling off the band-aid from my arm where they put the IV in.  While the procedure does kind of take you out of commission for a day and a half, it’s not painful and nothing to be afraid of.  If your doctor says you need to get a colonoscopy, please don’t delay!

In my case, since I’m under fifty, my insurance company didn’t completely cover the procedure. But, I’m really glad I didn’t wait just to save some money.  If you’re over fifty, your insurance company should completely cover it, but check your policy to be sure.

Don’t be scared! Just do it!

By the way, my doctor said that some of the known causes of colon cancer are eating lots of red meat, and any kind of burned or BBQ’d meat.  For more information on colonoscopies and colon cancer, please see this article.

What was your colonoscopy like? Please share below! – Brian

2021 Update

Since I have a family history of colon cancer, I need to get colonoscopies every three years. I just got my second one and they found four polyps this time, three of which were pre-cancerous. Although that isn’t great news, I’m so glad that I’m getting these procedures done. In my case, not getting them done could be a death sentence in ten years or so. Just do it!

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4 Comments

    1. Hi Kurt,

      My Dad died of colon cancer. If he would have gotten a colonoscopy, he could have extended his life by years. I had four polyps the last time I got a colonoscopy. If I don’t get them, it’s pretty much a death sentence for me in ten years.

      Best,
      Brian

  1. I’m glad I found your article and so glad you had shared your experience in such an open manner! I’m still not happy about having this procedure done and of course, dreading the heck out if it!!!! But thank you for sharing and now I know a little more of what to expect or what’s in store….