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Recovery From a Colonoscopy: What to Expect and Frequently Asked Questions

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    Recovery From a Colonoscopy

    A colonoscopy is generally an outpatient procedure and recovery is usually quick and causes little to moderate pain or discomfort. Most patients choose to be sedated for their colonoscopy and do not remember the procedure when they awaken. Immediately after the colonoscopy you will be taken to the recovery room to be monitored and make sure the sedatives have cleared safely from your system. You may feel bloating or cramping because of the air used in your examination to inflate your abdomen. Once you pass gas this discomfort should go away quickly. The discomfort and any pain associated with the colonoscopy usually go away within 24 hours. While you may feel fine after your colonoscopy it is important you eat well, hydrate, and rest to allow your body to recover. Final results for any biopsies or samples of tissue tested for cancer can take from one to three weeks. In this article, you will learn about the recovery process from your colonoscopy procedure including answers to some questions you may be having. 

    After the exam

    Your healthcare team will take you to the recovery room once the procedure is complete. You may not remember the procedure and you may feel groggy, disoriented, and bloated-feeling. In the recovery room the following typically occurs:

    • Your nurse will monitor your blood pressure and heart rate
    • Your IV will be removed
    • Your doctor will check in with you and tell you how the colonoscopy went and any immediate findings (such as abnormal tissue, source of bleeding, or polyps) that were discovered 

    Be sure to ask your doctor to give you a written report of the colonoscopy because you may not remember what you were told while the sedation is wearing off. Once you are cleared from the recovery room, you will be discharged to a friend or family to go home. 

    Heading home

    The drugs used to sedate you will take a few hours to completely clear from your system and will affect your motor skills and the way you think. It is not safe for you to drive a car nor be without a friend or family member if you are taking public transportation. Arrange for a ride home ahead of time as you will not be allowed to leave alone if you were sedated. 

    First 24 hours

    Symptoms you may experience the first 24 hours following your colonoscopy include:

    • Forgetfulness and drowsiness (from medications)
    • Mild abdominal pain
    • Excessive gas
    • Bloated feeling
    • Redness at the IV site

    What can I eat and when?

    Answer:

    You are not to eat or drink anything for the first 30 minutes after your procedure. When this time has passed, begin with small sips of water. Once you are able to do this easily then you can have small amounts of solid food. Remember your digestive system has gone through some serious cleansing and mild trauma from the procedure itself. It is important you choose solid foods that will not irritate the lining and are difficult to digest. After your colonoscopy, your physician may give you the following instructions:

    Water. Begin with water. You may be very thirsty right after your procedure especially from the bowel preparation before your colonoscopy. Take small sips and continue to drink water for the rest of the day. 

    Electrolytes. Replace the electrolytes and nutrients lost from the bowel cleansing with a sports drink, vegetable, or fruit juices.

    Herbal teas. If your digestive tract is uncomfortable, try some soothing herbal teas like peppermint or chamomile with honey to relieve symptoms

    Solid foods. Begin eating easily-digestible solid foods. Choose foods that are easy on the digestive tract and are loaded with carbohydrates and protein to help give you energy. AHealthy and appropriate food options include: 

    • Crackers
    • White bread or toast
    • Scrambled eggs 
    • Soup
    • Mashed potatoes
    • Nut butters 
    • Steamed or cooked vegetables
    • Canned or jarred fruit

    Foods to avoid. Avoid spicy foods, dairy products, and acidic drinks that cause irritation to your digestive tract. These include:

    • Whole or chopped nuts
    • Popcorn
    • Corn
    • Brown rice
    • Legumes
    • Coconut
    • Alcohol
    • Spicy or super-seasoned foods
    • Raw or undercooked vegetables
    • Fried foods
    • Red meat
    • Fruit that has skin or small seeds (like apples or strawberries)
    • Spices
    • Crunchy nut butters
    • Whole grain foods

    When can I start  taking my medications?

    Answer:

    Talk to your physician about when you can start taking your medications after the colonoscopy. This includes asking about over-the-counter drugs. If you stopped taking medications such as blood thinners, insulin or oral diabetic medications, again talk to your doctor about when you can start taking them. Your doctor will give you clear directions on when you can and if you are confused ask your physician do write the directions down for you. 

    Will I be in pain?

    Answer:

    The most common side effect of the colonoscopy is feeling crampy or gassy afterwards. This is because your gastroenterologist pumped air into your colon during the procedure and some of the air remains inside. The best way to relieve this discomfort is to walk and eat. You can also use a heating pad and lie on your left side to treat gas and bloating.

    You may have some bleeding if you had a polyp removal or biopsy. This is normal in small amounts. If you have an increased volume of blood 

    Closely monitor the site where your IV fluids and medications were given for redness or swelling. These are signs of an infection and need to be checked out by a nurse or physician as soon as possible. 

    Are there any activities I cannot do?

    Answer:

    When you return home from your colonoscopy plan to take it easy and rest. Do not drink alcohol. You should not do any strenuous activity for the 24 hours after your procedure. Usually you are able to resume your activities the day following your colonoscopy. If you had a biopsy or polyp removal you may have specific instructions about not just your diet but also your allowed level of activity. Consult with your physician about when you can continue your normal daily activities and exercise regime. 

    Will I feel normal the day after my colonoscopy? What is not normal?

    Answer:

    People tend to recover quickly from a colonoscopy, especially if they spend the day rehydrating, resting and eating well. You should expect to return to your normal routine of life the day after your procedure. It is normal for you to have some abdominal pain and minor bleeding, especially if  you had polyp or abnormal tissue removal. Rarely, a complication may occur. This includes a perforation, which is a tear in the lining of the intestines. Look out for the following symptoms and signs of a colonoscopy complications:

    • Abdominal pain that is unrelenting and severe
    • Heavy bleeding
    • Bleeding that does not go away after a couple bowel movements
    • Fever higher than 100.4 degrees
    • Shortness of breath
    • Nausea or weakness
    • Vomiting blood
    • Black tarry stools
    • Redness, swelling, or drainage at the IV site

    Call your physician or seek medical attention immediately if you have any of these signs or symptoms. You may have a severe complication, including a reaction to the anesthetic, an infection, or a perforation of the colon wall. 

    Colonoscopies are known to be a safe procedure for most people. Recovery from the procedure is usually fast and relatively painless. You may have some discomfort immediately after, especially feeling bloated, crampy, and gassy. These symptoms usually go away quickly and you should feel back to normal the day after your procedure. You should have normal bowel movements within 2 to 3 days of your procedure. Ask your doctor if you have any concerns about your recovery before your scheduled colonoscopy. Your healthcare team is always available for any concerns you may have and will discuss any aspect of the procedure with you before, during, after your colonoscopy. 

    References

    American College of Surgeons. (2019) Colonoscopy. Retrieved from American College of Surgeons: https://www.facs.org/~/media/files/education/patient%20ed/colonoscopy.ashx

    Columbia Surgery. (2021). Colorectal surgery: Colonoscopy. Retrieved from Columbia Surgery: https://columbiasurgery.org/conditions-and-treatments/colonoscopy

    Festa, A. (2020, February 22). Recovery after colonoscopy: What to expect. Retrieved from Healthgrades: https://www.healthgrades.com/right-care/colonoscopy/recovery-after-colonoscopy-what-to-expect

    Gardner, A. (2019, August 27). How to recover after a colonoscopy. Retrieved from Livestrong.com: https://www.livestrong.com/article/361390-how-to-recover-after-an-afternoon-colonoscopy/

    Mount Sinai Writing Staff. (2019, July 13). Retrieved from Mount Sinai Health Library: https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/discharge-instructions/colonoscopy-discharge

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