What happens during a colonoscopy?

This is one question that I often get asked, that may seem like an odd thing to ask someone but as I am sometimes seen as the voice of poo I get a LOT of poo based questions!!

So you have been told you need to have a camera up your bum and it is TERRIFYING! The reason you are having the test is diagnostic, so doctors can take a look inside your colon.  The actual reason can be so varied but usually because there has been unusual activity, diarrhoea, bleeding, mucus, incontinence etc.

Not only are you dealing with the worry of what they will find (and I know we all assume cancer, and though that can be the case, there are SO many other reasons you are having problems, so don’t scare yourself into hysterics before you get any results!). But many people feel embarrassed to discuss with others and the thought of someone looking up your bum is just mortifying.  This happens with ‘poo diseases’, if you were suspected to have diabetes and were going for blood tests, you shouldn’t feel any shame but because it is from the bottom, it can feel ridiculously embarrassing.

Just remember that these medical professionals do this every day.  They will not be embarrassed, they won’t be giggling or thinking what an odd shaped bottom you have! They see thousands of bums a year and I promise you, they are not judging you!

So what happens? Firstly let me say, I am not medically trained and this is my experience of having many colonoscopies over the past 11 years.  It is really important that if you have any specific medical questions that you speak to your doctor.

Which type?

Well there are a few different ‘up the bum’ cameras.

Flexible Sigmoidoscopy

This is used to look at the inside of the large intestine from the rectum through to the sigmoid but not sufficient  in the ascending or transverse colon (two-thirds of the colon).

Rigid Sigmoidoscopy

This is a procedure done to look at the rectum and lower colon.


This is an examination of the large bowel and the end part of the small bowel with a camera on a flexible tube passed through the anus.

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. A sigmoidoscopy allows an examination of the distal portion (about 600 mm) of the colon.

sigmoidoscopy colonoscopy colon


A Pouchoscopy is a procedure to examine the lining of your ileo-anal pouch for any inflammation, abnormal growths or tissue.  This is for people who have had their bowels removed and a ‘jpouch’ or ileoanal anastomosis formed.

j pouch pouchoscopy


The colon must be completely clear of poo for the test to be performed properly. For a few days, you may be  required to follow a low fiber diet and on the day before the scope, you will be given a laxative preparation.

There are different types of bowel prep but all of them have the intention of clearing EVERYTHING out.  Most require you to drink the medication mixed with a lot of water.  It can be really difficult to stomach this but it is vital you complete all the medication given to you.  It will be explained to you how to take your type of medication but if you have any questions, then do speak to your doctor.

You will want to stay at home and close to the toilet once you start your bowel prep.  Trust me on this one, STAY CLOSE to the loo!

colonoscopy prep lol


What next?

Once you get to the hospital, it is necessary to remove your clothes and change into a gown before the procedure.  You will be taken through to the room where there may be a few medical folk in the room.  You will be asked to get on the examination table and lay on your side with your knees up towards your chest, the back of your gown is open to the doctor.

Some people choose to have sedation to help them through the procedure.  In my own experience I could handle the pouchoscopy and sigmoidoscopies without sedation, there was very minimal discomfort.  But for the colonoscopy, I have the sedation as the camera is going further into the colon and I personally struggled without.  You could also be offered gas and air. Speak to your doctor beforehand to decide what (if any) pain relief is needed.

If you have the sedation, you will generally have a canula inserted into a vein for the sedative to be pushed through into your blood stream, once it goes in, it acts very quickly and you may feel light headed and like you are a bit drunk!  You should feel relaxed and perhaps sleepy and in a  dreamlike state.

You may also have a clip on your finger to keep check on your pulse and perhaps a blood pressure cuff.  Staff are with you all the way through, at every scope I have had, there has been a nurse to sit by me and speak to me throughout the procedure.

The first step is usually a digital rectal examination, where the doctor inserts a finger into your anus. The endoscope is then passed through the anus, up the rectum into the colon.The endoscopes have multiple channels for instrumentation, air, suction and light etc.

Colonoscopy position



The bowel is expanded with air to maximise visibility, this can feel uncomfortable and make you have the sensation that you need to poo.  As you lay on your side, you may be able to see the screen the the doctor watches so they can see in real time the inside of your colon, some people may not want to watch the screen but I find it really interesting.

Biopsies may be taken during the procedures, watching this on the screen you see a claw type instrument that ‘grabs’ a section of the inside of the colon and pulls back to remove a tiny biopsy.  Though this isn’t painful, you can feel a little tug from inside which can feel odd.

The whole thing (depending on which scope you have) lasts between 10 and 40 minutes.  Afterwards, some recovery time is usually allowed to let the sedative wear off.  Most doctors require that patients have a person with them to help them home afterwards especially if you have had sedation.

One very common aftereffect is a bout of flatulence and minor wind pain caused by the air that is pumped into the colon during the procedure.  It can feel like you are really full up with wind and the only way to remove it is by passing wind.  You may have a little stomach ache afterwards or perhaps be sleepy after the sedation, it is good to rest for a day or so.

As with any medical procedure there are always the potential for complications, these aren’t common but could include; an adverse reaction to the sedative used during the exam, bleeding from the site where a tissue sample (biopsy) was taken or a polyp or other abnormal tissue was removed or a tear in the colon or rectum wall (perforation).  Your doctor will explain all the risks before you sign the consent form.

colonoscopy sigmoidoscopy

So there we go, I hope this post has helped answer a few questions.  Just remember that it’s a medical procedure, I know it can feel upsetting and embarrassing but it is necessary.  The idea of this blog came from me wanting to #StopPooBeingTaboo and this is why I feel it important to talk about these sorts of issues.  We are told that it is impolite to speak of body fluids and bottoms but it is the social embarrassment and fear that stop people seeking medical help.  The quicker you seek help, the better it is for your health.

If you have any more questions or other aspects of life with IBD that you would like me to post about, feel free to comment below or message me through my Facebook or twitter.

Sam xx


58 replies
  1. averil
    averil says:

    Dear Sam…THANK YOU!!
    I am having a colonoscopy in a few days time, and, I am beyond terrified. I’ve made myself sick with fear.
    Your article has made me a little more confident, and while I’m not looking forward to the procedure being done, I feel that I can cope with it.

    • mike
      mike says:

      Averil. iv had a few colonoscopys over the years its nothing to worry about you may feel a bit bloated when they pump air in but if its too uncomfortable just let the nurse know and the doctor will let air out it will be over in no time and you can watch it all on the tv screen if you like, and the best bit for me is I get a few days off work 🙂
      so don’t worry about a thing.
      all the best mike.

    • Joyce M Small
      Joyce M Small says:

      Thank you for the reassurance. My colonoscopy is scheduled for 4/29/16.
      PS I have also worried myself silly thinking about this.

        • admintimm
          admintimm says:

          Best of luck Joyce! I always had sedation so felt a bit groggy afterwards, I have never noticed a change in appetite. I ate a light meal later on. X

        • Nancy
          Nancy says:

          I was really hungry during the liquid fast the day before and assumed I’d be ravenous afterwards, but surprisingly, my stomach was a little raw and I felt bloated so I just ate a light meal.

      • Christopher
        Christopher says:

        Nothing to be nervous about, especially if you are sedated. I did mine non sedated and while there was discomfort, it was fine. My friends that have done this sedated said it was like they took a well rested nap. It sure would suck to not have it done and find out you have cancer later and you avoided the exam because of fear. Cancer is more scary…at least to me.

    • M Haydon
      M Haydon says:

      Bit late to comment, but I had to have this while in hospital. Actually its wasnt the hell I thought it was going to be, The prep was for me the worst part of this procedure. Staff were exellent, took about 30 mins, had a sedative that made me dizzy, but staff reassured me, afterwards wheeled out on bed and had a little oxygen to clear the sedative away. The results showed i had Sigmoid Diverticultis. actually for me, I cant take the other one down the throat, I have had a phobia of choking on an object since I was little, so cameras down throat are a no go, unless they put me out for a few minutes. Im sure your fears about having it were not as bad as you were thinking. hope you are keeping well

    • Betty
      Betty says:

      I had my first one about 3 months ago the only thing I didn’t like was the nasty taste of that yucky stuff you had to drink the day before I had it other then that I was in and out in no time or should I say HE was in and out at no time.LOL

  2. joe
    joe says:

    Had 3 of these now,and wish the hospital had supplied your article.Its so true to my experiences.After the first one you sort of look forward to the next one as you have no worries about the procedure.

  3. Grace Lessageing
    Grace Lessageing says:

    I had one in November. It wasn’t as bad as I’d expected, but I did need sedative+gas and air, and still squeaked a bit when it got to the top. I think there is also water in the scope because it washes through at the same time. Your post is very instructive and reassuring, Sam. 🙂

  4. Liv
    Liv says:

    The memories of mine are like a dream, I’m not sure what was real and what isn’t! I remember being in pain even with sedative though.

    One thing I would mention is that if you have to travel to the hospital a fair bit after taking the epic laxative get yourself a hotel room near by as the laxative can still be working in the morning. That bit was not pleasant! ‘Moviprep’

  5. africandream01
    africandream01 says:

    Hi Sam

    Thank you so much for this post. Just had my own 6 monthly routine visit to my Specialist for my Diabetes and was told I need to have a Colonoscopy and Gastroscopy as soon as possible.

    I’ve just written a post about my own (forthcoming) experience – see here: https://africandream01.wordpress.com/2015/06/25/stop-the-bus-i-want-to-get-off/

    Thank you for being such an inspiration and for your words of comfort and encouragement. I also love your sense of humour.

  6. Danan
    Danan says:

    Will never have a colonoscopy in five years when I turn 50. No one talks about risks perforation of colon, C-Diff infection and the same cannula used up everyone’s butt merely “sterilized,” not to mention embarrassing position and very degrading. Sorry would risk colon cancer and have an excellent GI system.

    • Jason
      Jason says:

      Well I am 44 years old. I have to get a Gastroscopy and Colonoscopy in the same appointment. Never though I would need this done too. But one Saturday night at 11.30 pm I had a pain in my gut, just thought I would be going to the toilet soon. Then at around 12.30 am into Sunday morning and 1 hour after the pain, I felt something leak out while I was still sitting down, I thought oh no, must be an upset stomach and I just soiled my pants. But to my shock it was blood, my pants and underwear were all covered in dark blood, I ran to the bathroom and more blood just came out. All a dark maroon colour. So was bad it was coming from veins. Was taken to hospital for 3 days and put on a drip, the bleeding stopped but they have to find out why this happened. My appointment is for 23rd August 2016. Sometimes it just happens in life. You can’t ignore it.

    • M Haydon
      M Haydon says:

      Must admit, operators here in UK hospitals appear to be extremely skilled, and want to complete the investigation in the most timely fashion and take any snap shots as well, so as to lessen the stress of this procedure, I did have some discomfort when he was bending round the intestines, in fact he was mumbling more about the fact, that I was still on iron tablets, which should have been stopped a few days earlier. The rates of damage or infections is extremely low really. I dont believe for one minute that any resuable apparatus would be used on the next patient.?

  7. Mikey
    Mikey says:

    Just cancelled mine, no way could I go through this. Spoke to loads of friends and family who have had one and still can’t possibly ever let someone do this to me. Learning to control the pain and discomfort I get in my colon.

    • Nancy
      Nancy says:

      Mickey, you must request sedation. It’s not general anastasia. Propathol is commonly used and you are out SO fast (sweet dreams) but will come out of it fast and feeling no pain. The prep the day before is worse (fasting and laxatives).

      • Mikey
        Mikey says:

        Thanks Nancy, I did and was told I would still be fully aware of what was happening. Have just come out of hospital after another nasty bout of diverticulitis so this is going to rear it’s ugly head again, still can’t go through with it. I have major issues with letting anyone mess around that area due to a situation that happened when I was a kid! Enough said on that issue.

        • Christopher
          Christopher says:

          You are not aware of anything, if you are sedated, so your comment doesn’t make sense. I, too, was assaulted as a child, and did lots of therapy, however to not have an exam that could detect cancer lets your former abuser still have control over your body. You are an adult now…find control. Since you stated you have diverticulitis, which I am not sure how you would know for certain without a colonoscopy, I saw my diverticula during mine (I had two). Did you know if they get infected or rupture, which they can if you don’t eat healthy, surgery may be necessary. Please don’t let an innocent procedure turn into something inappropriate, when it is not.

          • Chris
            Chris says:

            I too was assaulted as a child and I will never never never never in 1 million years have it done it is disgusting it is undignified it is an invasion of privacy it’s dangerous and it’s ugly and I don’t care how many butts they see during the day I’m not going in there to flash my butt for some pervert to stick a hose up

          • sam
            sam says:

            I’m sorry about your experiences. But colonoscopies aren’t disgusting or perverted. It’s a medical procedure that literally saves lives.

          • patient records colonoscopychris
            patient records colonoscopychris says:

            I was assaulted as a child also and the only way I will have this done is when hell freezes over. It’s ugly and dignified it’s disgusting and it’s dangerous and I don’t care how many but Stacy during the day they’re still human and divine is a bet is a bet look up patient records colonoscopy

          • Chris
            Chris says:

            I was assaulted as a child also and the only way I will have this done is when hell freezes over. It’s ugly and dignified it’s disgusting and it’s dangerous and I don’t care how many but Stacy during the day they’re still human and divine is a bet is a bet look up patient records colonoscopy

          • C
            C says:

            I too was assualted and will have this done only after hell freezes over. It is ugly, undignified, an invasion of privacy and dangerous. Besides, i don’t care how many butts they see a day they are still human and prone to human reactions. Look up the case where a man recorded his colonoscopy.

      • M Haydon
        M Haydon says:

        Right on there, the blo*ody prep was actually the most awful part of the procedure, suppose i was lucky to be in hospital for a chest infection, so I had easy access to the loo!! I wasnt put out, just a mild sedative. Im already on Diazapam many years now, so sedation was very light for obvious reasons, doctors and operator most skilled and really had not time to worry, Once I was on table, it was in and fascinating look into the structure of the colon. Fortunetly I was diagnosed with Diverticulitis, but without this procedure ruling anything else out I wouldnt be able to sleep. You get colon cancer your risk of perforation is very high.

  8. Rose
    Rose says:

    I have had several and always am concerned about them my last one 3 yrs ago was good and clean .i have recently had a colon infection a nd was overnight stay in er for pain meds and antibiotics. I was told to have a colonostymy in 1 yo 2 months. I saw a dr two weeks after and he has set up a colonostymy for this week .i want to wait 6 more weks because i jave better insurance starting. Should i wait or is it imperative to get it now. My bowels are miving no blood or pus and normal in color.

    • sam
      sam says:

      Hi Rose, Im sorry you’re having a tough time. I am not a doctor and really can’t comment on medical matters like this.

      Any questions you have, you need to get in touch with your doctors.

      Best of luck


  9. Amie
    Amie says:

    Hi Sam I will be having the done in a weeks time along with camera down the throat I am looping myself with worry as no one is saying very much on this it’s good that you say the doctors and nurses are doing their job and seen so many bums that made my day thank you ???

  10. Nancy
    Nancy says:

    I just had my first routine colonoscopy this morning and my procedure was just as described in this blog post. The liquid diet followed by the heavy laxative the day before was very unpleasant compared to the actual colonoscopy, which was easy with sedation (propathol). My nurses were kind, informative and everyone made me feel comfortable. The doctor told me the results upon waking. If it weren’t for the preparation, I wouldn’t mind having to do it again. Luckily I was healthy and normal and won’t have to do another for 10-years.

  11. gail
    gail says:

    hi I having a camera into my large bowel so worrird ,I got polick so if they small enough they will take them out
    never had a camera done befor ,I have a camera down my throat it was very bad didn’t like it at all ,so worry about this ,in a week time I having it done
    I having because of dridrea and a bit of bleeding I cant eat having thing and loseing weight
    I got told when you have it done you passing wind all the time why they doing it ,this worried me

  12. Lesley
    Lesley says:

    My sister had a colonoscopy some years ago. The Dr doing the procedure commented on what a nice bottom she had.

    My sister and the accompanying nurse were shocked. My sister never pursued the issue but I think she should have done.

  13. Lucy Orwin
    Lucy Orwin says:

    I have one dun on the 28/42018 I’m really a scerd as I have no one to come with me I’m crap wen it comes to pain

  14. Lawrie Lees
    Lawrie Lees says:

    Hi My dad has had a colonoscopy. He has the words cancer excluded on the results what does this mean? Basically he has been passing blood for some time he has lost alot of weight in the last few months too. The report says in so many words he has pockets that are filling up with feaces. He has been given an urgent 2 week referal also. But the words cancer excluded are playing on my mind what does this mean 🙁 thank you

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  16. Andrew David Tribble
    Andrew David Tribble says:

    I HAVE had a Colonoscopy, without sedation, the only, very slight, problem was when the camera entered the Transverse Colon. I felt a Slight ‘Cramp’, the Doctor simply added, yet more, air and I was fine. The ‘Gas’ afterwards, bearing in mind that Everyone Else is in the same boat, is Fun though! The Consultant, treating me, informed me that ‘Over Fifty Percent, of the scans I do, are completely clear’. Mine was only ordered because I had been on Cyclosporine, some years earlier. Not, the best procedure, but NOT the worst either…Not by along shot!


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