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Tips To Make Your Colonoscopy Prep Easier

If you are like most people, you dread the at-home preparation that must be done to clean out your bowels before a colonoscopy. There’s good news: Recent improvements in the prep have made the process easier for many people.

That’s important because colonoscopies are the best way to detect colon cancer, which is the second most common cause of cancer deaths in the United States.

Why Does Your Colon Have To Be Clean?

Your colon must be thoroughly cleaned before your colonoscopy so that your doctor can see any abnormalities, such as polyps, or colon cancer during the procedure. Polyps are small growths in the colon that could later turn into cancer. If you are not able to complete your colon preparation, you may have to repeat your colonoscopy and you risk waiting longer to identify abnormalities.

During a colonoscopy your doctor inserts a long, flexible tube containing a camera into your rectum to look directly into the colon (large intestine) as well as the end of the small intestine (terminal ileum). Your doctor may take tiny samples of tissue called biopsies and remove any polyps. You will be sedated during this procedure, so you do not feel any pain or discomfort.

Types of Colonoscopy Preparation

The preparation before your colonoscopy involves drinking a mixture of clear liquids and laxatives to empty the colon. In the past, patients had to drink large volumes of these mixtures. Now, however, you have many choices, including a low-volume prep and even pills. Here are prescription types of prep, some of which are sold under many brand names:

  • Sodium sulfate, potassium sulfate and magnesium sulfate taken in two 12-ounce doses, each followed by a quart of water.
  • Sodium picosulfate, magnesium oxide and citric acid taken in two 5-ounce doses, the first followed by five 8-ounce servings of clear liquid and the second followed by three 8-ounce servings of clear liquid.
  • Polyethylene glycol, sodium sulfate, sodium chloride, potassium chloride, sodium ascorbate and ascorbic acid taken in two 1-liter doses, each followed by clear liquids as directed.
  • Sodium sulfate, magnesium sulfate and potassium chloride involves taking 12 tablets at two different times, each followed by three 16-ounce glasses of clear liquid.

An option that can be purchased without a prescription is Miralax powder and Dulcolax tablets, often taken together. Miralax can be mixed into Gatorade or another clear liquid to make the solution taste better.

Your doctor will let you know which is the best option for you.

Tips To Make Your Prep Easier

Preparing for your colonoscopy can help ensure you have a successful procedure. These tips can help you deal with the unpleasant taste and side effects:

  • Ask your doctor for prescription medicines to control nausea, vomiting and bloating
  • Put your liquid prep in the refrigerator so it’s chilled when you drink it
  • Use a straw to drink your prep so you won’t taste it as much
  • Add flavoring, such as Crystal Light, if your prep isn’t flavored (No red or purple dye because they can interfere with colonoscopy results.)
  • Suck on a lemon or hard candy after you drink your prep
  • Stay hydrated during the prep
  • Prepare your bathroom with soft toilet paper and wipes
  • Use skin-soothing products such as baby rash ointment
  • Wear loose clothing
  • Keep entertainment, such as books, a laptop or a tablet, in the bathroom

Changing Your Diet

Cut back on fiber two to three days before your colonoscopy. Fiber is the indigestible part of plant foods and leaves a high amount of residue in the colon. Stick to a low-fiber diet and avoid foods such as:

  • Beans
  • Berries
  • Nuts
  • Raw fruits and vegetables
  • Whole grains

The day before your procedure, your doctor will ask you to stick to a clear liquid diet.

That means you can have unlimited amounts of the following, as long as they are not red or purple:

  • Water
  • Clear juice
  • Clear broth
  • Soda
  • Black coffee
  • Tea (hot or iced) with sugar or artificial sweetener but no milk or creamer
  • Gatorade
  • Gelatin
  • Popsicles
  • Italian ice
  • Hard candy
  • Gummy bear candy

Colonoscopies Save Lives

About 60 percent of the adults who should have a colonoscopy to screen for cancer actually do. That number is likely even lower now because the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused 1.7 million people to miss their colonoscopies. This is projected to cause 4,500 excess deaths over the next decade.

Having a colonoscopy can save your life, and adequate bowel prep is a key part of the procedure.

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