Resource Center


What is colonoscopy?

Colonoscopy is a screening test that allows providers to detect abnormalities in the colon and rectum, including inflamed tissue, ulcers, bleeding, and abnormal growths, called polyps. During a colonoscopy, a scope is inserted into the patient’s anus, and slowly moved through the colon. The provider can visually examine the colon using a camera at the end of the tube that is connected to a computer and monitor.

What bowel preparation is needed for colonoscopy?

A “bowel prep” is a process that causes frequent bowel movements to cleanse the colon. This helps the provider get a clear view of any visible polyps or abnormalities during the procedure.

Generally, all solids must be emptied from the gastrointestinal tract by following a clear liquid diet for one to three days before the procedure. A laxative is required the night before colonoscopy to loosen stool and increase bowel movements. Laxatives are usually taken in pill form, liquid, or as a powder dissolved in water.

Should I take my regular medications before my colonoscopy?

Most medications should be continued as usual, but some may interfere with the procedure. For that reason, be sure to inform the provider about any medical conditions and all medications, vitamins, or supplements that are taken regularly, including:

  • Aspirin
  • Arthritis medications
  • Blood thinners
  • Diabetes medications
  • Vitamins

What if polyps are found during the colonoscopy?

A provider can remove growths, called polyps, during a colonoscopy using tiny tools passed through the scope. These tools can remove polyps or suspicious tissue, which can later be examined in a lab. Polyps are common in adults and are usually harmless. However, most colorectal cancer begins as a polyp, so early detection and removal is an important part of cancer prevention.

Who is most likely to develop colon polyps?

Although anyone can develop colon polyps, certain people are more likely to get them than others. Risk factors include:

  • Fifty years of age or older
  • Family history of polyps
  • Family history of colon cancer
  • Personal history of polyps

Other potential risk factors for polyps include:

  • Diet high in fat
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Smoking
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Lack of exercise

Talk with your provider about being tested for colon polyps if you’re 50 years of age or older, or earlier if you have symptoms or someone in your family has had polyps or colon cancer.

What is colorectal cancer?

Colon cancer is cancer of the large intestine, or colon. Rectal cancer is cancer of the last several inches of the colon, called the rectum. Together, these conditions are referred to as colorectal cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths in the United States.

What are the symptoms of colorectal cancer?

Symptoms of colorectal cancer often occur when the cancer is past the early stages and tend to vary according to the size and location of the cancer. For example, some people may experience abdominal pain, tenderness in the lower abdomen, blood in the stool, diarrhea, constipation, or other changes in bowel habits. Other symptoms may include intestinal obstruction, narrow stools, anemia, or unexplained weight loss.

How is colorectal cancer treated?

The treatment of colorectal cancer can include chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, or targeted therapies. Depending on the stage of the cancer, two or more of these treatments may be combined at the same time, or used one after another.

What is ulcerative colitis?

Ulcerative colitis is a disease that causes inflammation, called ulcers, in the lining of the rectum and colon. Ulcers form where inflammation has damaged the cells that usually line the colon, causing bleeding and producing pus. Inflammation in the colon and rectum can also cause frequent emptying and spasticity, commonly known as diarrhea.

What are the symptoms of ulcerative colitis?

The most common symptoms of ulcerative colitis are abdominal pain and bloody diarrhea. Other primary symptoms can include weight loss, loss of appetite, dehydration, and a loss of nutrients.

Secondary symptoms affect parts of the body other than the digestive tract. For example, frequent fevers, anemia, joint pain, fatigue, and lesions or sores on the skin can occur.

Does ulcerative colitis require surgery?

As many as 25 to 40 percent of ulcerative colitis patients must eventually have their colon removed. This can be due to severe bleeding, illness, or rupture of the colon. There are several surgical options that may be considered, depending on the severity of the disease.

What is Crohn’s disease?

Crohn's disease is an autoimmune disease, in which the body's immune system attacks the gastrointestinal tract. Simply put, Crohn's disease causes inflammation of the digestive system, and can affect any area from the mouth to the anus. Inflammation, which can extend deep into the lining of the intestine, can cause obstruction and other complications leading to pain and diarrhea.

What are the symptoms of Crohn’s disease?

Along with pain and diarrhea, other common symptoms of Crohn’s disease include bleeding from the rectum, weight loss, joint pain, skin problems and fever.

What are the risk factors for Crohn’s disease?

Family history is a strong risk factor for developing Crohn’s disease. Approximately 20 percent of people with Crohn’s disease have a blood relative with some form of inflammatory bowel disease, most often a brother or sister and sometimes a parent or child.

Crohn’s can occur in people of all ages, but it is more often diagnosed in people between the ages of 20 and 30. The condition affects men and women equally. People of Jewish heritage have an increased risk of developing Crohn’s disease, while African Americans have a lower risk.

How is Crohn’s disease treated?

Treatment of Crohn’s disease depends on the severity of the disease, complications, and the patient’s response to previous treatments. Crohn’s disease can be particularly challenging to treat because it’s often an intermittent condition. Some people have long periods of remission, even years, when they’re free of symptoms. However, the disease usually recurs throughout a person’s lifetime. This changing pattern of the disease can make it difficult for providers to determine if a specific treatment has helped.

What is diverticular disease?

Diverticular disease involves small pouches that can form in the colon. These pouches, called diverticula, can occur naturally as people age. When a person develops diverticula, the condition is called diverticulosis. In diverticulitis, the diverticula, or pouches, become inflamed and infected. The inflammation may begin when bacteria or stool are caught in the diverticula, which can lead to infection.

What are the symptoms of diverticulitis?

The most common symptom of diverticulitis is abdominal pain. Usually, the pain is severe and comes on suddenly, although it can also be mild and become worse over several days. Other symptoms include cramping, nausea, vomiting, fever, or chills.

What is IBS and what are the symptoms?

Irritable bowel syndrome, often called IBS, is a condition that affects the colon, or large intestine. IBS is sometimes referred to as spastic, nervous, or irritable colon. It can cause abdominal cramping, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and other changes in bowel habits. In fact, some people go back and forth between constipation and diarrhea. Some may also experience symptoms like nausea, headache, fatigue, and gas.

What can trigger IBS?

Different people have different triggers for IBS. For some, certain foods or stress can trigger the symptoms. For others, hormonal changes or illnesses can trigger irritable bowel syndrome. It’s thought that the central nervous system plays a role in IBS, through a reflex, causing spasms activated by triggers.

How is IBS diagnosed?

IBS is usually diagnosed based on a physical exam, and a thorough medical history that includes a careful description of symptoms. However, because there are usually no physical signs to definitively diagnose IBS, diagnosis is often a process of elimination. To help in this process, researchers have developed diagnostic criteria, known as Rome criteria, for IBS and other functional gastrointestinal disorders.

How is IBS treated?

Most people diagnosed with IBS can control their symptoms with diet, stress management and medicine. In some cases, bulk fiber products, antispasmodics, or anti-diarrheal medications might be prescribed. It’s important to note that although IBS can cause a great deal of discomfort, it doesn’t damage the intestines.

What is a colectomy?

Surgery to remove all or part of the large bowel is called colectomy or resection. In some cases, the provider may perform a partial colectomy, which involves removing the diseased portion of the colon. A hemicolectomy involves the removal of half of the colon. A proctocolectomy is the name for the procedure to remove the colon, anus, and rectum.

What is an anastomosis?

In some cases, the provider will perform an anastomosis, where the healthy parts of the colon are joined together after the diseased portion has been removed.

What is a colostomy?

Surgery may require an alternate path for waste to leave the body when an anastomosis is not possible. The surgery to create the new opening in the abdomen for waste elimination is called ostomy, and the opening itself is called a stoma. The creation of an ostomy and stoma is called a colostomy.