Colonoscopy or coloscopy is the endoscopic examination of the large bowel and the distal part of the small bowel with a CCD camera or a fiber optic camera on a flexible tube passed through the anus. It can provide a visual diagnosis (e.g., ulcerationpolyps) and grants the opportunity for biopsy or removal of suspected colorectal cancer lesions.

Colonoscopy can remove polyps as small as one millimeter or less. Once polyps are removed, they can be studied with the aid of a microscope to determine if they are precancerous or not. It can take up to 15 years for a polyp to turn cancerous.

Colonoscopy is similar to sigmoidoscopy—the difference being related to which parts of the colon each can examine. A colonoscopy allows an examination of the entire colon (1200–1500 mm in length). A sigmoidoscopy allows an examination of the distal portion (about 600 mm) of the colon, which may be sufficient because benefits to cancer survival of colonoscopy have been limited to the detection of lesions in the distal portion of the colon.

A sigmoidoscopy is often used as a screening procedure for a full colonoscopy, often done in conjunction with a fecal occult blood test (FOBT). About 5% of these screened patients are referred to colonoscopy.

Virtual colonoscopy, which uses 2D and 3D imagery reconstructed from computed tomography (CT) scans or from nuclear magnetic resonance (MR) scans, is also possible, as a totally non-invasive medical test. Virtual colonoscopy does not allow therapeutic maneuvers such as polyp and tumour removal or biopsy, nor visualization of lesions smaller than 5 millimeters; if a growth or polyp is detected using CT colonography, it would require removal during a standard colonoscopy. Surgeons have used the term pouchoscopy to refer to a colonoscopy of the ileo-anal pouch.

Medical uses

Conditions that call for colonoscopies include gastrointestinal hemorrhage, unexplained changes in bowel habit and suspicion of malignancy. Colonoscopies are often used to diagnose colon cancer, but are also frequently used to diagnose inflammatory bowel disease. In older patients (sometimes even younger ones) an unexplained drop in hematocrit (one sign of anemia) is an indication that calls for a colonoscopy, usually along with an esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD), even if no obvious blood has been seen in the stool (feces).

Fecal occult blood is a quick test which can be done to test for microscopic traces of blood in the stool. A positive test is almost always an indication to do a colonoscopy. In most cases the positive result is just due to hemorrhoids; however, it can also be due to diverticulosis, inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn's diseaseulcerative colitis), colon cancer, or polypsColonic polypectomy has become a routine part of colonoscopy, allowing quick and simple removal of polyps during the procedure, without invasive surgery


  • Perforation
  • Bleeding
  • Anaesthesia
  • Bowel preparation



The colon must be free of solid matter for the test to be performed properly.For one to three days, the patient is required to follow a low fiber or clear-liquid only diet. Examples of clear fluids are apple juice, chicken and/or beef broth or bouillonlemon-lime soda, lemonade, sports drink, and water. It is very important that the patient remain hydrated. Sports drinks contain electrolytes which are depleted during the purging of the bowel. Drinks containing fiber such as prune and orange juice should not be consumed, nor should liquids dyed red, purple, orange, or sometimes brown; however, cola is allowed. In most cases, tea or coffee taken without milk are allowed.

The day before the colonoscopy, the patient is either given a laxative preparation (such as bisacodylphospho sodasodium picosulfate, or sodium phosphate and/or magnesium citrate) and large quantities of fluid, or whole bowel irrigation is performed using a solution of polyethylene glycol and electrolytes. The procedure may involve both a pill-form laxative and a bowel irrigation preparation with the polyethylene glycol powder dissolved into any clear liquid, such as a sports drink that contains electrolytes.


During the procedure the patient is often given sedation intravenously, employing agents such as fentanyl or midazolam. Although meperidine (Demerol) may be used as an alternative to fentanyl, the concern of seizures has relegated this agent to second choice for sedation behind the combination of fentanyl and midazolam. The average person will receive a combination of these two drugs, usually between 25 and 100 µg IV fentanyl and 1–4 mg IV midazolam. Sedation practices vary between practitioners and nations; in some clinics in Norway, sedation is rarely administered.

Some endoscopists are experimenting with, or routinely use, alternative or additional methods such as nitrous oxide and propofol, which have advantages and disadvantages relating to recovery time (particularly the duration of amnesia after the procedure is complete), patient experience, and the degree of supervision needed for safe administration. This sedation is called "twilight anesthesia". For some patients it is not fully effective, so they are indeed awake for the procedure and can watch the inside of their colon on the color monitor. Substituting propofol for midazolam, which gives the patient quicker recovery, is gaining wider use, but requires closer monitoring of respiration.

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Clinical Gastroenterology Journal
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