Recovery from a colonoscopy, an examination of the large intestine used to screen for colon cancer, takes about a day. While the procedure itself takes only around an hour to complete, you'll need an hour after to recover from the sedative and the remainder of the day to rest and replenish fluids and nutrition.
As a general rule, it is best to take the rest of the day off from work after a colonoscopy and give yourself 24 hours to feel 100% normal again.
This article discusses what to expect during recovery from a colonoscopy, including how you will feel and what is involved once you are at home. It also explains what will happen once the results of the exam are received.
Why Recovery Is Needed
A colonoscopy is a minimally invasive procedure in which a flexible scope with a tiny camera (called a colonoscope) is inserted through the anus to examine your large intestine, also known as the colon or large bowel. While there are other methods of colon cancer screening, it is considered the gold standard.
Although it is regarded as minimally invasive, there are side effects associated with a colonoscopy that you need to recover from.
Among these, you will need to recover from the sedative given intravenously (into to vein) prior to the procedure, most commonly Versed (midazolam) or Diprivan (propofol). You might also experience minor rectal bleeding if any growths (called polyps) were found and removed.
Other possible side effects include abdominal cramping, trouble passing gas or pooping, and feeling weak, lightheaded, or tired due to the lack of nutrition.
It is important to remember that minimally invasive does not mean non-invasive. Between bowel preparation, sedation, and the procedure itself, your body has been tasked and needs time to recover.
Risk of Side Effects
A 2017 study in Minerva Anesthesiology reported that at least 76% of people who underwent a colonoscopy experienced some level of pain or discomfort and/or after-effects of sedation during the 24 hours following the procedure.
What Are the Risks of a Colonoscopy?
Colonoscopy Recovery Instructions
After the colonoscopy is completed, you are wheeled to a recovery room or cubicle and monitored by a nurse until you awaken from the sedative. Once you are steady enough to sit up, you will be given something to eat and drink and asked if you are experiencing any side effects, such as nausea or dizziness.
Once you are cleared to leave, you will need to follow your healthcare provider's instructions. This includes having someone drive you home. You will not be allowed to drive yourself or leave if there is no one there to take you home.
Once safely home, the care guidelines would generally be as follows:
- Rest the remainder of the day, and resume normal activity the next day.
- Resume your normal diet. Eating high-fiber foods or using a fiber supplement can help get your bowels moving again.
- Drink plenty of fluids to replace the ones lost during bowel preparation.
- Avoid heavy lifting or strenuous activity.
- Do not drive or operate heavy machinery for 24 hours. Even if you feel OK, sedatives can slow reaction times and take 24 hours to fully clear your body.
- Avoid alcohol for 24 hours as it can amplify the effects of any sedatives in your blood.
- If you had any polyps removed, avoid nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Advil (ibuprofen) or Motrin (naproxen) because these medications can promote bleeding.
- Tylenol (acetaminophen) is not an NSAID and is generally safe for treating pain.
- Monitor for side effects or symptoms and report them to your healthcare provider if they are persistent, severe, worsening, or simply worrying you.
When to Call a Healthcare Provider
Call your healthcare provider or go to the nearest emergency room if you experience any of the following after undergoing a colonoscopy:
- High fever with chills
- Severe abdominal pain or swelling
- Nausea and vomiting
- Passing large amounts of blood from your rectum
- Inability to pass gas
- Trouble breathing
- Chest pains
- Leg swelling
There may or may not be a significant follow-up after a colonoscopy. Moreover, the follow-up may be with the specialist who performed the procedure, called a gastroenterologist, or with the primary care provider who organized the procedure.
Depending on the specialist, you may be told immediately if any polyps were found or removed, or the information may only be shared in the pathology report. Having a polyp may not mean anything as most are benign (non-cancerous) and may only have been removed as a precaution to ensure they don't get larger and turn cancerous.
Generally speaking, you will be advised immediately if anything serious is found, such as a larger growth with unusual features or bleeding. This is because timely action is needed if cancer is suspected.
Beyond that, it can take a few days to receive the results of the pathology report. This is because the lab specialist, known as the pathologist, will want to review the images and perform tests on any tissue samples sent to the lab. The tests can reveal if there are any precancerous or cancerous cells, or if the cells are perfectly normal.
Some gastroenterologists will discuss the findings with you over the phone, or mail you and your primary care provider a copy of the report.
Others will want to discuss the results in person at a follow-up appointment. This may be true even if there were no signs of cancer or precancer. If you are at risk of colon cancer for any reason, the provider will want to stress the need for routine screening and things you can do to reduce your risk.
When Do I Need My Next Colonoscopy?
A normal colonoscopy means that you can wait 10 years before having the next one. If you have three or more benign polyps, you may be advised to have your next colonoscopy in one to three years, depending on the size of the polyps.
A colonoscopy is a minimally invasive procedure used to screen for colon cancer. Colonoscopy recovery is usually quick with most people resuming normal activity the next day.
Even so, it is important not to rush back to work. It is best to take the remainder of the day to rest, recover from sedation, and replenish fluids and nutrition. The results of your exam should be available within a few days.
A Word From Verywell
For most people, recovering from a colonoscopy is relatively quick and easy and not as scary or bothersome as some will tell you. Moreover, the benefits of screening—in terms of colon cancer prevention—greatly outweigh any risks.
If you are worried about undergoing a colonoscopy for any reason, speak with your healthcare provider. There are other forms of screening available that can be used. And, it is far better to explore these options than to skip colon cancer screening altogether.
What Are the Alternatives to a Colonoscopy?
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it normal to have blood in your stool after a colonoscopy?
If your healthcare provider removed any polyps or took a biopsy during the procedure, yes, some bleeding is normal. For some, the bleeding may start a week or two after the colonoscopy. Talk to your healthcare provider if the bleeding is heavy, persistent, or simply worries you.(Video) What happens after a colonoscopy?
What is the best thing to eat after a colonoscopy?
You can usually return to a normal diet after the procedure. However, you may want to stick with light meals that are easy to digest. This may include crackers, toast, cooked vegetables, and chicken or fish with little seasoning. You might want to wait a day to consume foods that cause gas or bloating such as beans, onions, cabbage, and broccoli.
How long does it take to have normal bowel movements after a colonoscopy?
It can take around two to three days to have a normal bowel movement after a colonoscopy. The time can vary from person to person. When you do have your first bowel movement, you may notice a bit of blood. This is likely normal and not a cause for concern.(Video) How long is the recovery after a colonoscopy? #BassListens