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Dr QM Leong
Dr QM Leong

Is A Colonoscopy Painful? 4 Facts On Managing The Pain

Colonoscopy screenings are vital for detecting and preventing colorectal cancer, polyps, and other gastrointestinal issues. But for many, the mere mention of the word “colonoscopy” can evoke feelings of anxiety and fear, often centred around the uncertainty of pain and discomfort associated with the procedure. Is a colonoscopy painful? What can patients expect during the process?

And how can one prepare to minimise any potential discomfort? In this blog post, we’ll explore the realities of colonoscopy pain, debunk common myths, explore pain management options, and provide insights into what patients can expect.

By demystifying the procedure and emphasising evidence-based information, we aim to alleviate concerns and empower individuals to approach their colonoscopy confidently and understandably.


Introduction To Colonoscopy

A colonoscopy is a vital medical procedure involving a flexible tube equipped with a small camera to inspect the colon or large intestine.

This procedure is typically performed to detect early signs of issues in the digestive tract, such as colon or colorectal cancer. During a colonoscopy, a doctor inserts the tube into the rectum to obtain a better view of the internal lining of the colon. This allows the doctor to identify and, in most cases, remove polyps and other abnormal growths that could lead to cancer.

Though some patients might experience discomfort, such as gas or bloating, the pain is generally temporary due to air being inserted to expand the colon. The goal is to make the procedure as painless as possible, and the bleeding risks are minimal with proper care.

1. Anaesthesia And Pain Management Options

For most colonoscopies, sedation is typically used to help the patient relax, sometimes even inducing sleep. Generally, general anaesthesia might be preferred, ensuring the patient feels no pain. A thin layer of local anaesthesia might also be applied to numb the tube’s insertion area.

The choice between these anaesthesia options depends on various factors, such as the patient’s health, age, the complexity of the colonoscopy, and personal preferences. Open communication between the patient and the doctors who perform the procedure is vital.

The preparation also involves wearing a hospital gown and bowel preparation with specific medication. These measures are part of the overall strategy to minimise any fear or anxiety, particularly the thought that the colonoscopy might hurt.

Importantly, most patients report minimal to no pain during their colonoscopy, and serious complications are rare. It’s normal for most people to have concerns, but with proper anaesthesia and care from the medical team, a colonoscopy is typically a smooth and manageable experience.


2. Understanding The Pain Factor

Factors Contributing To Pain

Different factors can contribute to the sensation of pain or discomfort during a colonoscopy. The patient’s age, overall health, fear, and anxiety levels can play a role. The skill and approach of the doctors performing the procedure also matter.

Colonoscopy preparation, where the patient lies, follows a special diet and takes medication, can sometimes cause discomfort. The insertion of the tube and inflation of the bowel with air to detect abnormalities can also cause sensations that some might find uncomfortable.

Comparison With Other Medical Procedures

Compared to other medical procedures, like open surgery, a colonoscopy is typically considered less painful. Sedation or anaesthesia ensures that most people experience minimal to no pain.

While there might be some residual discomfort after the procedure, it’s generally short-lived and less intense than the pain associated with more invasive surgeries. The focus on pain prevention, careful monitoring, and individualised treatment plans make colonoscopies a procedure that prioritises patient comfort and safety.


3. Post-Procedure Care And Management

Managing Residual Pain

After a colonoscopy, most patients find that any discomfort or pain experienced during the procedure quickly subsides. However, some residual sensations, such as cramping or a feeling of bloating, might linger.

These feelings are usually temporary and can be managed with simple colonoscopy recovery measures such as gentle movement and over-the-counter pain relievers. It’s also important to discuss any concerns with your medical team, as they can provide specific guidance tailored to your needs and symptoms.

Follow-Up Care

The period following a colonoscopy is crucial for ensuring the patient returns to normal activities smoothly. Follow-up care might include monitoring for potential complications, such as bleeding or infection. Doctors usually provide specific instructions regarding diet, activity levels, and any medications that may have been prescribed or adjusted in preparation for the colonoscopy.

Additionally, if any polyps or abnormal tissues were removed or biopsied, the doctor will schedule a follow-up appointment to discuss the findings and any necessary next steps in care or treatment.


4. Myths And Misconceptions: Debunking Common Myths About Colonoscopy Pain

Having a colonoscopy can be daunting for many people, but fear is often rooted in misunderstanding. It’s important to address and debunk some of the most common myths and misconceptions about colonoscopy pain to bring clarity and ease concerns..

Colonoscopies Are Extremely Painful

While people might be reluctant to go through with a colonoscopy due to the fear of pain, the truth is that most patients do not experience severe pain during the procedure. Anaesthesia or sedation is typically used to ensure comfort, and many patients are in a light sleep during the process.

Bowel Preparation Is Intolerable

Though bowel preparation, where the patient follows a special diet and takes medication, can cause some discomfort, it is generally manageable. Many patients find this part temporary and necessary to give the doctors a better view of the colon.

You Must Lie In A Hospital Gown For Hours

While it is true that the patient lies in a hospital gown during the colonoscopy procedure, it’s usually for a brief period. Most colonoscopies are performed quickly, often within 30 to 60 minutes.

Colonoscopies Often Lead To Complications

The risk of complications during a colonoscopy is very low. The procedure is designed to detect early signs of issues in the colon and is performed by skilled doctors. Any sensation, such as a thin feeling due to the insertion of the tube, is typically well managed.

General Anesthesia Is Always Required

While general anaesthesia is an option, it’s not always necessary. Depending on the patient’s needs, various levels of sedation or even local anaesthesia can be used to prevent pain.


Conclusion On Pain After A Colonoscopy

Colonoscopies are an essential tool in the early detection and prevention of colorectal cancer and other gastrointestinal conditions. Patients can confidently and easily approach their colonoscopy through careful preparation, understanding pain management options, debunking myths, and following post-procedure care guidelines.

It’s normal to have concerns, but the information provided in this blog post aims to demystify the process and empower you with knowledge. Always remember open communication with your healthcare provider and a clear understanding of what to expect can turn a potentially anxiety-inducing experience into a manageable one.

For more information on colonoscopies, contact Dr Leong. He is a colorectal surgeon in Singapore specialising in the diagnosis of colorectal-related diseases. His other fields of expertise include hernia surgery, haemorrhoids treatment, perianal abscess removal, and others.


Frequently Asked Questions About Pain After A Colonoscopy

Are There Any Specific Instructions for Post-procedure Care?

Post-procedure care varies depending on individual needs and the specific guidelines your doctor provides. Generally, it includes monitoring for potential complications, following dietary instructions, and adhering to prescribed medications or activity levels. Your medical team will provide detailed instructions tailored to your situation.

Can I Return to Normal Activities Immediately After the Colonoscopy?

Most patients can return to normal activities shortly after a colonoscopy. However, some temporary restrictions may exist, especially if sedation or anaesthesia is used. Your doctor will guide you when you can resume regular activities, including driving or operating heavy machinery.

How To Know If Something Is Wrong After A Colonoscopy?

You should seek immediate medical attention if you experience any of the following symptoms after undergoing a colonoscopy:

  • Severe pain in the stomach
  • Dizziness or vertigo
  • Fever
  • Bleeding in the rectum
  • Fever
  • Perforation (tear)

Is It Normal To Have Pain 3 Days After A Colonoscopy?

Usually, the pain symptoms after a colonoscopy resolve within a day. If the pain persists longer, it’s best to seek immediate medical attention from a colorectal doctor.

What Is The Most Common Complication After A Colonoscopy?

In a study conducted by Deutsches Ärzteblatt International, rectal bleeding was the most common post-colonoscopy complication. Physicians accounted for this finding after confirming with 16 patients involved in the study (or about 0.30% of the participants).