Preparing for an endoscopy or a colonoscopy (not for the faint-hearted!)

July 01, 2021 6 min read

"Following on from my last blog post on diagnosis, I'll now draw on my own experiences to help you plan and prepare for an endoscopy or a colonoscopy. In this post, I’m going to be very frank about what will happen to you, or your child in an endoscopy/colonoscopy. This is based on my own personal experience. I’ve had quite a few over the years and I’ve developed a method of dealing with them. I’m posting my method here to help the people who feel the need to know the details before they go into it. I’m one of those people but you might not need that help. If you don’t, walk away from the screen now! I’m joking but before reading any further, please consider that you might find this post the opposite of helpful...  

Endoscopy and colonoscopy procedures - two things to remember

  1. Both procedures are short – usually only around 20 minutes. So although they are uncomfortable, and at times you might feel very scared or even humiliated, they don’t last long.
  2. The other thing to remember is that the medical team do these all day, every day. They’ve seen it all and no matter what happens, as long as you’ve followed their advice on preparation for the procedure to the best of your abilities, they won’t mind.

Preparing for your procedure

The preparation for the procedure is extremely important to get right and for some people it’s the most difficult thing. Before the big day, make sure you have lots of food ready to eat on your return from hospital. Buy it in or cook it up – whatever you do, have it ready to reheat when you get home because you will be absolutely starving and you will be feeling weak.  

Take your laxatives

The hospital will send you some very strong laxatives in advance. You must follow the instructions to the letter. The aim here is to clear out your bowels so that the camera can look around unobstructed. Do not leave the house on the day you take the laxatives. You must be beside a free toilet at all times. You normally dissolve the laxatives in water and drink them. If they make you vomit and you cannot hold them down, call the hospital immediately and tell them. They will have to postpone your procedure and send you a different type of laxative. This happened to me and they were very understanding. They cannot do the procedure unless the laxatives have done their job so there would be no point in turning up at the hospital.  

Don't eat anything beforehand

You also have to fast for many hours, sometimes more than 24 hours before you go to hospital but there are things you can eat. I normally make a vegetable consommé. I boil a lot of vegetables to death in a large pan and then strain them all out including any slivers of skin, etc. I like to spice it up with some cayenne pepper too. Although this isn’t filling, it does give your body lots of nutrients and there is a placebo effect – your body seems to think it’s eaten more than it has. I also drink Lucozade while I’m fasting because I get headaches caused by low blood sugar. This is fine to do and can make the process a lot easier.  

Taking sedation beforehand

Another thing you need to consider before the procedure is whether you wish to take sedation or not. My strong advice: take the sedation! It will relax you to the point that you will forget a lot of your fears. It’s definitely worth it. You cannot drive after taking sedation so organise a family member or friend to pick you up afterwards or book a taxi.  

What endoscopy and colonoscopys involve - breaking it down

Both procedures, the colonoscopy and the endoscopy involve putting a camera into you – either down the throat or up the other way (!). They cameras are looking for evidence of problems. They often also take a sample to biopsy while they are doing this. There is usually a tiny metal pipe in the camera tube that they push into your internal tissue to get the sample. Remember: There are not many nerve endings in those areas so you don’t feel much while the biopsy part is taking place.   During the procedure, they often also pump air into you to make it easier for the camera to look around. This results in what I will call ‘body wind activity’ which can be an unwelcome and humiliating guest!  However, it’s only for a short time and the medical team don’t blink an eye. They see this 20 times a day, every day so don’t allow yourself to feel embarrassed. Think of it as a mechanical issue - if someone pumps air into your bottom or your stomach, it has to come out somehow! Easily said, I know but don’t dwell on it … really.   If you are having the endoscopy, which is a camera down the throat, they will freeze your throat using a spray. This works very well but your throat is painful after the procedure so don’t plan in any singing competitions for a few days. As you can imagine, when someone puts a tube down your throat, the body reacts by retching. Personally, I find this the most difficult thing to deal with because it’s physically draining. So as you are lying there, burping the air out and retching simultaneously, just hold the nurses hand and remember, it’ll be over in a few minutes.  

My own story

My worst ever procedure was on the day Sheffield flooded in June 2007. There was nothing wrong with the procedure itself, that went fine! It had been raining for ten days in a row and I came out of the out patients department starving and weak. I hadn’t eaten in 36 hours. At that time there was nothing gluten free in the hospital café. I tried to book a taxi at the hospital but was told that no taxis had come in the last 90 minutes. This was strange so I decided to get the tram home but when I walked to the stop, there were 100s of people waiting there. I knew something was wrong so I thought I’d walk along the street in the hope of getting a bus. I was pretty sick with hunger at this point! No buses passed me by so I kept on walking. I walked around 5km that day! As I arrived at the mainline train station, it was being evacuated. I found a vending machine and got a packet of crisps from it, which was a relief! I didn’t know how to get home because it was too far to walk with me in that state (and it was all uphill!). I saw a taxi with its light on and flagged him down but he shook his head and drove off. I was cold and soaked to the skin, my wet jeans were hard to walk in and in my weakened state, I felt defeated. I started to cry! Very silly! Then, in the distance, I saw a tram at the stop before the train station. It could not go any further because of the evacuation so it was turning back. I jumped onto it and got home. I had a shepherd’s pie ready to eat in the fridge. I gobbled up two huge plates of it and fell asleep until 10pm when my mother called to find out if I’d been caught in the floods. She was watching it on the 10 o’clock news! I hadn’t even realised there were floods! I was in such a state that I didn't make the connection. Hopefully a natural disaster won’t occur on your procedure day!     Good luck with your procedure and be sure to make life as easy as possible for yourself during the preparation and on the day of the procedure.   Planning is the key!   Click here for more information about coeliac disease"

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