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Dr QM Leong
Dr QM Leong

How Long Does A Colonoscopy Take, Including Recovery?

Colorectal cancer remains one of the most common forms of cancer worldwide, making regular colonoscopy screenings crucial. This life-saving procedure thoroughly examines the large intestine, allowing doctors to detect any abnormal tissue or polyps early. 

This procedure is essential because colon cancer often doesn’t cause symptoms such as severe abdominal pain or rectal bleeding until it’s advanced. Understanding the colonoscopy process, from colonoscopy prep to recovery, is essential for peace of mind and making informed health decisions.

So, if you are scheduled for your first colonoscopy, and are wondering how long does a colonoscopy takes, including recovery, then this article is for you. 


Pre-Procedure: Understanding Colonoscopy Preparation

Before the procedure, bowel preparation, or ‘colonoscopy prep’, is key. This preparation involves consuming a clear liquid diet for 24 hours before the colonoscopy. This step is vital as it clears out the large bowel, enabling the tiny video camera on the colonoscope to provide clear images of the colon’s lining. 

This prep also involves drinking a special solution to induce bowel movements, ensuring your colon is free of remnants that could obscure the doctor’s view.


Risk Factors: When Should You Get a Colonoscopy?

Most patients with average risk should start colonoscopy screenings from age 45. However, risk factors such as a family history of colorectal cancer or polyps, persistent abdominal pain, and rectal bleeding may necessitate earlier and more frequent screenings.


The Colonoscopy Process

The entire colonoscopy experience, from arrival to departure from the hospital, typically spans approximately two to three hours. This time is distributed among various stages: check-in, pre-procedure preparations, the colonoscopy itself, and the recovery phase.

Check-In Phase

On arrival at the hospital (assuming a colonoscopy appointment is scheduled for 8 a.m.), you’ll need to be there around 7 a.m., providing sufficient time for check-in and pre-procedure preparations. During check-in, typically around 15-30 minutes, your health details are reviewed, your blood pressure is monitored, and you’re asked to sign a consent form.

Pre-procedure Preparations

Following check-in, you’ll move into the pre-procedure phase, which lasts 30 to 45 minutes. This phase involves meeting with the doctor and nursing staff to discuss the procedure, address any last-minute concerns, and confirm the intended procedure. An IV line will be in place to administer sedation during the colonoscopy.

Most patients are given deep sedation, meaning they’ll be asleep but still breathing independently. Light sedation may sometimes be used depending on the individual’s overall health and the physician’s recommendation. The anesthesiologist or nurse anaesthetist will administer the sedative and monitor your vital signs throughout the procedure.

The Procedure Itself

Next comes the colonoscopy procedure itself. Once the sedation takes effect, the doctor will begin the colonoscopy, which involves the insertion of a colonoscope – a thin and flexible tube with a tiny video camera – into the rectum to examine the entire length of the large intestine.

Depending on factors such as the individual’s anatomy, the presence and number of polyps, and the ease of navigating through the colon, this procedure could take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour. The doctor may remove polyps during the colonoscopy and take tissue samples for further examination if necessary.

Post-Procedure: Detailed Colonoscopy Recovery

Immediately following the procedure, you’ll be moved to the recovery area. Here, you’ll spend approximately 30 to 45 minutes or even up to an hour, depending on the type of sedation used and how quickly you recover from its effects. 

The nursing staff then monitors your vital signs and ensures you recover from the sedation. During this time, you may feel bloated or pass gas due to the air introduced into your colon during the procedure. It’s also normal to experience minor rectal bleeding, especially if polyps were removed or a biopsy was performed.

Upon confirming that you’re alert and stable, the nurse will review the post-procedure instructions. This typically takes about 15 minutes. Once this is done, you are ready to leave the hospital. However, due to the effects of sedation, you will need someone to drive you home.


Returning To Normal Activities And Diet

After your colonoscopy, someone must drive you home as the sedation may impair your ability to operate heavy machinery. Once home, it’s usually advisable to rest for the remainder of the day. 

While you may experience abdominal pain, over-the-counter pain medication can usually manage this. Your first bowel movement after a colonoscopy may not occur for a few days, depending on your diet and how quickly your digestive system gets back on track.

Most patients return to their regular diet right after the procedure, although your doctor might recommend a specific diet if many polyps were removed. As long as you’re not experiencing severe abdominal pain or heavy rectal bleeding, you can typically return to work or your usual activities the day after your colonoscopy.

Follow-Up And Next Steps

After the procedure, your colorectal doctor or surgeon will discuss their findings with you and may provide further recommendations based on the results. For instance, the presence of polyps, abnormal tissue, or other risk factors like a family history of colorectal cancer could mean you’ll need your next colonoscopy sooner than the typical 10-year interval.


Conclusion On How Long Does A Colonoscopy Take 

Colonoscopy is seen as a procedure that may cause some discomfort and requires dedicated preparation and recovery time. However, it remains a gold standard in colon cancer screening. 

In summary, the entire colonoscopy process, including recovery, requires a half-day commitment, though the procedure only lasts 20 minutes to an hour. By understanding the timeline, you can better prepare and organise your schedule on the day of your colonoscopy. Always remember it’s best to ask your medical practitioner for direct information regarding your procedure.

Early detection and intervention can make all the difference. Consult with Dr Leong, a professional colorectal surgeon in Singapore, today.


Frequently Asked Questions On How Long Does A Colonoscopy Take

Why Is It Necessary To Be Accompanied By An Adult Post-Procedure?

It’s crucial to be accompanied by a responsible adult post-procedure because the sedation during the colonoscopy can leave you feeling drowsy or disoriented for a few hours. This can affect your judgement and physical coordination, making it unsafe for you to drive or travel alone.

Can The Colonoscopy Procedure Be Painful?

No, the colonoscopy procedure itself is not painful. Thanks to the sedation, most patients do not feel any discomfort during the procedure. Some may experience slight discomfort or pressure, but this is typically minimal and short-lived.

How Frequently Should I Undergo Colonoscopy If I Have A Family History Of Colorectal Cancer?

If you have a family history of colorectal cancer, your doctor might recommend you start screening earlier and more often than people at average risk. The frequency of colonoscopy will depend on your specific family history, but it could be as often as every five years or even sooner in some cases.

What Happens If Abnormal Tissue Or Polyps Are Found During The Procedure?

If abnormal tissue or polyps are found during the colonoscopy, the doctor usually removes them using tiny instruments passed through the colonoscope. This tissue is then sent to a laboratory for examination under a microscope. This examination is to check for signs of cancer or precancerous changes.

Does A Clear Liquid Diet Mean I Will Be Hungry During The Colonoscopy Prep?

A clear liquid diet is a vital part of colonoscopy preparation. While it may seem like you might feel hungry, the diet includes liquids that provide calories and keep you hydrated. Broths, jelly, tea and coffee without milk, and certain soft drinks are allowed, which can help to curb hunger.

Will I Be Awake During The Colonoscopy?

Most people are not fully conscious during a colonoscopy due to sedation’s effects, which helps ensure comfort during the procedure. Sedation will depend on individual circumstances and the hospital’s or doctor’s preference. Some patients will be in a deep sleep, while others may be in a twilight sleep where they are relaxed and unaware of the procedure.