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Are These 5 Myths Keeping You From a Colonoscopy?

September 28, 2023

Colonoscopy is one of those medical procedures that’s shrouded in mystery and misinformation, ranging from the terrible preparation to the actual procedure itself to the recovery period.

We asked gastroenterologist Neil D. Parikh, MD, to dispel five common colonoscopy myths.

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1. A colonoscopy hurts

Actually, nothing about the procedure itself hurts.

During a colonoscopy, a tiny video camera positioned at the end of a flexible tube is inserted into the rectum. The camera provides the doctor a view of the entire colon.

“During the colonoscopy, you are under anesthesia, so you should have no discomfort,” Dr. Parikh says. “Even if there are polyps found and removed, there is no pain. The colon doesn’t have any nerve fibers that can sense pain. Your colon lining can feel a stretch, but not pain.”

2. The colonoscopy preparation is terrible

Dr. Parikh admits the liquid you consume before the procedure doesn’t taste good. But that’s because of the colon-clearing ingredients that are essential to an effective colonoscopy.

What is true is that the prep is so much better these days than it ever has been: less liquid has to be consumed (although it’s still a lot). And if you’re desperate to avoid the drink, there’s now a series of pills that can be taken instead.

“The innovation is driven by making the entire experience more comfortable for the patient,” he says. “Talk to your provider to see what will work best for you.”

> Related: Colonoscopy vs. Cologuard: Which Is Right for You?

3. You will lose weight

Yes and no. You will lose water weight, Dr. Parikh says. “The preparation sucks up the water in your colon and pushes it out,” he explains. “You’re essentially flushing your system so you do lose water weight. But there’s a pretty good chance you will put it all right back on.”

4. You have to fast before the procedure

Dr. Parikh has heard many patients lament that they can’t go without food for a whole day before. But the truth is, that’s not necessary.

“It’s true that the less you take in the less you will have to push out, but you can eat low-fiber, low-fat foods the day before,” says Dr. Parikh. “What we do say is absolutely nothing starting four hours before the procedure.”

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5. It takes a while to recover from a colonoscopy

There is typically little recuperation time once you leave the office, other than you can’t drive yourself home or operate heavy machinery until the anesthesia is out of your system.

“It might take a day or two for your bowel movements to return to normal,” adds Parikh.

“Often, people leave our facility and go right to their favorite restaurant.”