What happens during a colonoscopy? 

A colorectal surgeon explains what happens during a colonoscopy, a procedure which examines the large bowel, the colon or the rectum.

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The 25 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

majical said on 22 August 2015

Went to Watford Hospital today for my colonoscopy. The prep mix was awful but worked. I have to say a big thank you to the consultant who was very reassuring and was very patient with this patient who nearly backed out in the theatre. Also a big thank you to all the nurses. The consultant was a master of the probe and even though I opted for sedation at the last moment they made a nerve wracking experience almost pleasant. Top consultant, top team. Big thanks from the nervous man on an early Saturday morning in downtown Watford.

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Slou75 said on 30 December 2014

Wow I would have been even more worried about having the procedure if I'd read some of these comments before, so I thought I'd add a positive experience! I can honestly say that for me the worst part was the bowel prep the day before, all that greasy drink and the resulting toilet trips! A sigmoidoscopy had previously found an andenomous polyp so I knew I had to have the full colonoscopy rather than risk leaving any more polyps inside. I had no pain relief for the sigmoid and found the first bend painful so was very worried about the full colonoscopy, I needn't have been. I had a needle put in just incase I needed sedation, and started on the gas and air. From the first lungful my whole body relaxed and I was fine, just kept breathing it in deeply the whole time, took about 15 mins. Was reassuring to see on screen how very throughly they checked the colon! Any discomfort was due to the air they pump in, it's wasnt like some sharp unbearable pain and I certainly don't liken it to giving birth. My second experience with the gas and air was much better than without anything at all. One hour later I was collecting my kids from school and taking them to their swimming lessons. There are 23 other experiences on this page so far, compare that number to the, what, thousands of colonoscopys the nhs perform every year? So I'm sure there are plenty of ok experiences out there, to. I have to have a repeat check up every five years, not at all worried. Need an endoscopy soon though, so I'm off to the endoscopy page now to scare myself silly no doubt!! All the best and definitely go have your check up, it could save your life!

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mjjw said on 27 October 2014

Had colonoscopy 2 days ago (North Manchester). I’m 62 and decided against sedation due to inherited liver condition and because my pain threshold is reasonably high - had both my children without any pain medication whatsoever. However I found the procedure excruciating. Mild discomfort at first, easily bearable but the bend at the top left (worst one) sent me into a cold sweat. They'd given me gas and air. (Quickly discarded as it made me feel sick)
Whilst the tube passed through the 'straight bits' it was bearable but on the bends it was extremely painful.
The nurses were great, trying to distract me, which never works. (I'm a person who needs to concentrate on my pain to deal with it, but they weren't to know that.)
I was sweating profusely, feeling sick and felt as if I was going to faint. The nurses told me to let them know if the pain was too much, I wanted to shout, 'it already is', but I knew if I did the chances were I'd have to start the procedure all over again with sedation, or I’d have to come back at a later date, so I gritted my teeth and kept telling myself, 'nearly there, nearly there.'
I then started to get pins and needles throughout my body, especially my hands and feet and around my mouth, and my blood pressure, or heartbeat (not sure which) started to concern them and they asked the doctor what to do. I couldn't hear what he said, (he hadn't passed any comment up to this point and only spoke because the nurses had asked him) They told me to slow my breathing and I realised I was hyperventilating. I did, with difficulty, and the pins and needles lessened. Eventually, the nurses said, we're at the end and seemed as relieved as I was. It was still painful on the way out but nowhere near as much. 3 bands were then fastened on haemorrhoids, which only added to the pain, but that's another story. Don’t know if the pain was normal or caused by Dr’s inexperience/poor technique.

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HFF1 said on 14 October 2014

I had my 6th colonoscopy yesterday evening. All other procedures that I have had were uneventful and pain free and have previously shown diverticular disease - hence my follow up scope.

My prep was good and I anticipated that this one would be the same or similar experience, but the pain I experienced was so acute that they had to stop the procedure prior to getting round the first 'bend' of the sigmoid colon - so not much bowel was viewed.

The doctor administering the colonoscopy was fine and explained the procedure well before my pain relief and sedative was administered - however when I was in such terrible pain, I asked for him to stop. He withdrew the colonoscope very quickly and went over to his desk and computer screen - to which I presume was to write up my short notes. He left me under the care of the nurses but didn't say a word to me afterwards.

I have previously endured cancer surgery, several procedures and a total of 37 operations as well as having 3 children, so I can tolerate a fair amount of pain, but this pain felt as if my bowel was literally going to explode - the pressure was far too much to bare. I work in the healthcare sector myself and have even trained in conscious sedation, so have observed many endoscopies as well as experiencing these first hand. I may need to have to consider a further colonoscopy now and with all the preparation involved beforehand I'm not exactly looking forward to it. When I asked the nurse what the doctor had written on my notes, she said he had just put diverticulosis and patient withdrew consent - which unfortunately doesn't reflect or describe the true set of events.

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Tiger2 said on 09 September 2014

I had my first colonoscopy for a 44 yr old.

I had had read about peoples experiences and was very worried about prep, the procedure and any complications.

First the prep, i was sent 3 packets of picolax to use over 2 days to clear the bowels, the instructions were clear, take at stated times and don't go to work. I ripped this up and followed my way, 3 days before procedure (sunday) i eat lightly as possible, the bare minimum and non fibre sort, this made sure my stomach was not full of food. On Monday I went to work, did not take the laxative in morning as stated but 3pm, 1.5 hours before i finish work, Drove home in 45 mins and thinking will i be ok.

Stomach started to rumble at after 6 and then nature took it course, however i only visited the toilet 3 times. Then at 9.15pm took second sachet, i slept well and only went toilet again 3 times over night.

On Tuesday my procedure was in afternoon, as my stools were clear i was ok, no chance of a failed procedure, you know when your bowls are prepped when you produce clear watery stools slightly yellow in colour. During the 2 days i had no food only water,, tea and some lucozade. I did not have to take the third picolax packet.

My procedure was in afternoon, teh hospital was only 15 mins drive but took bus, got there early and booked in and requested no sedative and took a gamble. The procedure went well, no real pain, saw all on camera just felt uncomfortable and took over 20 mins, spoke to consultant who said no real isses but they took some sample biopsies So total time was booked in at 1.30pm and discharged at 4pm.

Felt a bit boated as full of air but all that came out over the next 1 hour went home in bus and no pain felt.

Had main meal but can steel feel a gurgling stomach but this is due to it being empty

Hope above helps.

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tannc15 said on 22 August 2014

I had my first colonoscopy 21st August 2014 at the queens medical treatment centre in Nottingham. I was told that the moviprep was tolerable which I have to agree with, however what I wasn't told was about the pain I would be in when having the procedure! I was sedated this didnt work I was told it would make me feel like I'd have a few glasses of wine but did not work on me i felt sober.

They then commenced the procedure within 5 mins of the sedation being put into the cannula. Well after this is all I can say is from the onset of the procedure taking place I was in absolute agony I have to say I am not a person who can't tolerate pain I have given birth for god sake! They had to stop the procedure so now I have to wait to see what the drs decision is for the next step!

Why is this procedure not done under general anaethestia? Cost well all I can say is they wouldn't treat animals this badly!!!!

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cj_2014 said on 19 August 2014

I feel compelled to leave a comment about the absolutely brilliant, professional and caring treatment I received.

This was the first time I've ever had to use the NHS in my adult life (30 year old male). I was really worried about my colonoscopy (first time for me) but the hospital staff were all amazing. I can only commend how excellent all the nurses and doctors involved were (about 8 of them).

I had mild sedation and the procedure was painless. Your aware of it but it really was painless for me. I remember most the procedure but my memory was a little bit patchy from the sedation. I was diagnosed with a mild colitis and now i am receiving treatment for it at home.

The most difficult part of this is drinking the 4 liters of bowel preparation solution at home over 4 or 6hrs the night before. It will clear you out and make you go to the toilet about 9 times. However, it's tolerable but is a challenge to drink it all, so try to go thirsty beforehand.

If you're reading this and experiencing stomach-pain, diarrhea, occasional blood in stools then don't delay! get to your GP and get an appointment arranged at your hospital for a colonoscopy via GP. I put it off for months and now wonder why? (man thing).

You're treated in a very professional and dignified way, so there is nothing to be worried about. I hope sharing my experience will help someone else out there reading this. So don't suffer in silence, as I know how painful this condition can be.

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Uluru said on 17 July 2014

I was absolutely dreading my colonoscopy. I found the bowel prep the worst and ended up with a very sore bottom and even a small tear and some bleeding. The bowel prep Movieprep tasted like industrial cleaner with a sickly cloying lemony flavour. Started off at 7pm in hospital as admitted prior to colonoscopy following day. Bowel action started at 9.30 and continued to 2 a.m. Was woken at 6 a.m. to start the second dose and found this even worse to take first thing in the morning and was so glad I had Lucozade which I took after every glass full of medication. The actual colonoscopy was completely pain free. I was only given mild sedation and was awake but felt calm and watched the whole thing on screen which I found fascinating. A couple of polyps were removed, rectal intussusception was seen and diverticular disease. In Melbourne 10 years ago I had a colonoscopy and when sedated fell asleep immediately and woke up in recovery, so was expecting the same this time, however I am sure they gave me far more sedative than the hospital I was a patient at here in UK, so I was very surprised I had no reaction and was wide awake, only a small dose of Midozolam. However, as I say the whole procedure was painless and the staff were great, especially the doctor who carried out my colonoscopy. No ill effects afterwards and that cup of tea and sandwich they gave me in recovery tasted like cordon bleu! Went home a couple of hours later , no bowel problems. Slept for 7 hours that night. Got up the following morning and had one loose motion, no pain. Feel fine. Look forward to my results in 3 week's time at clinic.

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rjcUK said on 03 June 2014

I'm a 40-yr old male and I had my first colonoscopy today without sedation.

I thought everyone was sedated for this procedure so I was surprised when the nurse asked me whether I wanted to do it without sedation. They would put the canula in anyway and if I wanted it they could do it and it would take 20-30secs to kick-in. They would pull the scope out if they were to do that.

Anyway, that all sounded like a bit of a faff so I said I'd go for it without sedation. It was okay. For me the discomfort in having a colonscopy is a complex issue. Firstly, if like me you had a bit of a sore bottom from the prep solutions(!) then things are generally a bit tender down there. Secondly, having anything shoved where the sun doesn't shine is a novel experience for me and not actually one that I would like to repeat. Thirdly, you are surrounded by professionals which is fine but I had the glory of having a student nurse observing too. Fourth, there's the discomfort of feeling that you need to poo constantly. And, finally, there was a bit of discomfort when they were pumping air in.

I didn't feel any pain from the procedure (apart from the pumping of air bit which lasted about 5 seconds and was no worse than a case of trapped wind) and the nurse and the doctor did a great job of trying to distract me by asking me about my job, family, etc.

The worst for me was the trapped wind afterwards. It took about 2 hrs to go completely and in the meantime it was pretty painful. The best way I found to relieve the pain was to rest of my back in bed with my bum raised up on several cushions so the trapped air could travel upwards through my colon.

Luckily my colon is 'normal' with no polyps. I did get diagnosed with having diverticular disease which apparently is very common from 40yrs+. I was advised to continue a high fibre diet and drink plenty of water. They didn't seem at all bothered about it and, in fact, it wasn't even included in my results report sent to my GP.

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Jimmy54o said on 10 March 2014

I would like to put everyone at ease who will be undergoing this procedure.

I am 24 years old and horribly fearful of all things hospital related. Passing out from a blood test being my highlight. I underwent a Colonoscopy & Gastroscopy today at Frimely Park Hospital. I was very nervous in the waiting room but it really was for nothing. The staff were all so lovely and helped me relax. I had the sedative but could have quite easily done without it. The Gastroscopy was the most uncomfortable with the occasional gagging sensation but it was over in around 5 minutes. The Colonoscopy was literally painless. The only mild discomfort comes from the air pumped in but this is not a continuous discomfort. It is similar to a bloating feeling...I even mustered up the courage to watch the live video feed on the monitor. It was actually quite interesting. After the procedure they took my BP several times to make sure everything was all in order. After getting changed I was greeted with a cup of tea and packet of biscuits - After no food for over 24 hours they tasted heavenly! So, if you are going for one or both of these procedures please feel reassured that there is nothing to worry about, you will be in good hands. If you are nervous let the staff know, they are so supportive. Just think of the wonderful food you can eat afterward - For me this took the form of a massive fry-up down the local cafe.

A quick word on the bowel prep the day before. Buy some nappy rash cream and soft toilet paper or baby wipes. The last thing you want is a sore bottom! I had around 14 bowel movements over the course of the day from 2 satchets of Picolax. The taste of the solution was fine as well. Setting up camp in the toilet with drinks and movies made for quite an amusing day.

Best of luck to anyone reading this. I hope your procedure is a successful one.

Kind Regards,

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bibbys0 said on 09 December 2013

After reading the comments on here I must admit it terrified me a bit.I had been using every excuse for the last four months not to go for a colonoscopy, In the end I agreed and had my appointment today.
I must of talked myself into and out of having the procedure done 100's of times over the past 3 days but for the sake of my health and possible life I decided to give in gratefully and take the laxative last night.I purposely ate very little yesterday so the whole experience was not to bad of prepping my bowel.
I had decided even though reading nightmare stories to have no sedation or analgesia.I went for the appointment and was met by a pleasant nurse who did the prep and then it was time for me to go into the room.I saw the camera and thought no way would that all fit in but laid down and waited for the doc.Whilst waiting they asked me if i was sure I didnt want anything and I said I would have the gas and air if i thought i needed it..
The doctor arrived explained the procedure and then put some jelly up my bottom.I laid on my side and watched the TV screen.When he inserted the camera I did not hurt and i continued to watch my bowel like a fascinating documentary on TV. The doctor then puts gas through your bowel and the best way to cope with this is to force the wind back out as suggested by the nurse.At no time and I must reiterate at no time was I in any pain whatsoever.The gas sometimes felt a little uncomfortable but that was literally for a couple of seconds whilst I let it back out which is not difficult and you soon get over the embarrassment.I watched as the doctor took some routine biopsy's and could see on the tv bits being pulled off which i never felt
Then that was it over I was immediately told my bowel was normal which was a relief,
So please use your own opinion and dont be scared by what others have put.
This is my own experience and would not hesitate to have the procedure done again if need without sedation or pain relief.

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doodledoll said on 21 October 2013

I had my colonoscopy last week, and it was a very uncomfortable experience.
The staff were brilliant, and very supportive, but I think I could have done with a bit more sedative - the people in adjacent rooms must have wondered what was happening. I can remember lots of what was going on.
However, uncomfortable as it was, it was only half an hour and the fact it was clear and nothing found made it worth the discomfort.
Everyone has a different level of pain tolerance, so it will be different for you.
If you are booked for one, please go and have it done - I nearly backed out of it, but am glad because now I know there is nothing wrong

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amyzoe said on 12 October 2013

Hi rowroann,
I had my first colonoscopy on 9th October. I was terrified but it really wasn't too bad at all! I had sedation so was asleep for most of the time but I woke up a bit when I had a bit of a colicy feeling but it only lasted about 5 seconds. I also had Pethadine and Buscopan and the staff were so kind. Try not to be frightened, I also read the reviews and they made me feel worse too!
I hope this helps you a little.
Good luck and best wishes :D

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rowroann said on 09 October 2013

I am due to have a Colonoscopy on the 4th November 2013, I am terrified after reading some nearly all the comments about how painful it is. Three years ago I had a Endoscopy, it was just so painful. I expressed today to the Hospital about my fears and was told that it is uncomfortable but not painful, I don't know who to believe.

I watched Lynn Faulds video who she did say it was uncomfortable but not painful, also the Doctor who did the procedure said it should not be painful, if this is the case, is it that the people who have experienced excruciating pain during this procedure, is it being done by inexperienced Doctor's?

I am really sorry I have read these reviews, as I am more frightened than ever.

Although, I know I have to go through this to determine an answer to the recent problems I have been having, surely there has to be a better way for people to not go through this pain. Clearly it is happening!

Does anyone know, whether you can request a GA for this? or is it a case you just have to go through this?

Any answers please anyone or advice?

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poppysol said on 07 October 2013

I had a colonoscopy this morning. had a sedative and i cannot remember the beginning of procedure but the came to in lots of pain. they topped up sedative but everytime they moved the intrument inside i was in lots of pain to the point of tears. this is when they stopped. but removing this was painful too. i was totally disappointed as i have had pain for 3yrs. was investgated by woman's health but nothing found. i was puzzled as i had sedation at dentist and was fine. but i was just totally awake as when pain started and have been since. everyone was lovely on the dept as i was upset.

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lozzywozzy said on 29 May 2013

I am a 40 year old male and have just had my first colonoscopy today. I read lots of the comments on this page and must say that I was petrified but there was no need to be as it went fine and just had some minor discomfort. The staff at Aintree Hospital were fantastic, they explained everything that was about to happen and calmed my nerves. I had pain relief and a minor sedative but remained awake and talking throughout the procedure. I watched everything on the monitor and each area was explained to me as I was asking lots of questions. It wasn't fun but interesting and I felt no pain only minor discomfort similar to wind or needing to go to the loo rather quickly. I am home now and have just eaten some fish fingers and feel ok. I worried over nothing.

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kjc_2810 said on 24 May 2013

I had my first colonoscopy today with no sedation. I chose not to due to needing to look after my daughter that evening. If I had known what lay in store I would have definitely opted for the sedation! The nurse who prepped me told me not to worry as there are no pain receptors in the colon and that the only discomfort would be from the insertion which lulled me into a false sense of security. The insertion was the easy part and the first few minutes were also ok until the first corner was reached. I don't recall the much of the rest of he procedure as I think I passed out from the overwhelming pain and the entonox. The nurses where very good though trying to reasure me as best they could.
Overall I would not want to have to go through the experience again as it was very frightened and has left me feeling shocked. If I require another colonoscopy in the future it will be sedation all the way, I'd even go as far as to ask for a GA.

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Morrell said on 04 March 2013

Obviously those who experienced a painful procedure do have my sympathy. However, readers do need to also know that many of us have not experienced pain. I'm a 69 year old male and my colonoscopy was carried out at the Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth as a result of failing the 'Bowel screening' trial.

My initial first visit was with the Colonoscopy Screening Practitioner nurse (no examination required) who was extremely kind and helpful and I was given a date for the procedure together with 3 Prolax laxative sachets for use the day before the colonoscopy. I had also read horror stories about taking this, but again it was OK for me. It has a lemon taste and I suggest using two straws to drink it as it then misses the taste buds. I used to make up apple squash with hot water (1 part to 5 water) for the hourly 250ml drink, as I found it easier to drink than the other suggestions. From the very start make sure you use Vaseline over your anus after every bowel movement and pat the anus dry with toilet paper and I experienced no soreness. I went 7 hours before a bowel movement so don't worry if things are slow to start.

The colonoscopy Doctor and nurses were really nice and caring and whilst anaesthesia is not performed, I was sedated with Buscopan, Midazolam and Pethidine and whilst there were some short periods of discomfort which for me felt like bruising, I did not have any pain. They removed 2 polyps from the Caesum which is the furthermost part of the bowel, 1 polyp from the Sigmoid and diagnosed Diverticular in the Sigmoid and I felt no pain or discomfort at all when the polyps were removed.

No one should not have pain during the procedure and in those cases one has to question the doctor's ability. This is documented in the Lynn Faulds YouTube 'Having a Colonoscopy' where the consultant confirms this.

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jeanlyon said on 21 January 2013

I have just had a colonoscopy today and it was absolute agony. I started off on Entonox which was less than useless. The first part was uncomfortable, but bearable, however, as they turned the corner I nearly screamed. I was told to relax and not to hold my breath. Easier said than done methinks. After some more agonizing pain they then decided on sedation. Fentanyl and another drug. I felt a little better for a few seconds but then the pain started again. Was told to turn on to my back and they finally reach the end. They told me I have severe diverticular disease and that was causing the pain.
Never again.

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JudySR said on 18 January 2012

My second colonoscopy was even more excrutiatingly painful than my first. On both occasions I had sedation but it was agony and the procedure had to be halted because of the pain.
Afterwards I overheard a nurse, who was in the unit for an endoscopy, saying to a colleague that even with sedation she wouldn't have a colonscopy and when she had hers it was done under general anaesthetic. Her colleague replied that she would never have a colonoscopy without GA and wondered how some patients could bear it. After 24 hours, I am still in a state of shock. I have given birth to two babies without any pain relief and used breathing techniques to combat the pain but to no avail. Anyone worried about a colonscopy should ask about a GA.

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Anniepopolova said on 04 December 2011

I am happy that I am able to leave my positive comment about my experience yesterday. I had determined that I would not accept sedation as, compared to suffering 26 years of endometriosis I thought I would be able to bear 25 minutes of discomfort. I was right. Although the procedure was uncomfortable and painful at times the pain was completely bearable with a few deep breaths and the understanding that I would be able to leave the hospital immediately it was over and not lie/sit about for 2 hours in and around a hospital bed. There is no doubt that it hurts at times (but not all the time) but I have to say that I have worse headaches that have lasted longer!

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airportbaz said on 24 November 2011

I was put forward for an upper and lower gastroscropy after a flare up of of Ulcerative Colitis. This was carried out on 23rd Nov 2011. I'm thankful that I hadn't read the comments about the pain, I was already a nervous wreck. However, I'd like to add that my experience was far from painful, a certain amount of discomfort and some unusual sensations, but if and when I need to undergo this procedure again I won't lose any sleep. Everything was explained by the nurse, then again by the consultant. I was offered 'gas and air' but found it un-necessary. The professionalism and care I received at my local NHS hospital put me at total ease. Apart from a very sore throat thanks to the camera going in that end first, I have no after effects whatsoever. This was a 'full' colonoscopy that lasted 25 minutes and it was fascinating to watch the various procedures on the screen. Have no doubt that this minor op could save your life. I know everybody is different but I felt I needed to regress the balance for anyone contemplating this and reading only the bad experiences. You can always ask for sedation which, I believe, makes for a less traumatic time, I didn't even though I'm a coward when it comes to a filling at the dentist!!

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Nickyf said on 19 October 2011

The NHS video was very informative pre colonoscopy, however I found myself rather anxious after reading the painful experiences of the last two contributors.

I had my coloncoscopy yesterday afternoon and my experience was very different. For other potential patients felt I should share my positive experience.

Everything was explained to me beforehand, initially by a nurse and then in further detail by the consultant gastroenterologist who was going to perform the procedure.

A few minutes before it commenced I was given intravenous Pethadine 25mg and Midazolam 2.5mg as a sedative and mild analgesia.

A nurse sat next to me with an oxygen mask should I require it and she held my hand throughout.
We watched the monitor together whilst the consultant explained everything he was doing - including the six biopsies he took during the process. It was very interesting, and I found that focusing on the monitor helped distract me from the unusual feeling I was experiencing in my insides. Occasionally I found it a little uncomfortable round some of the bends - but not painful as such.

I was expecting cramping and discomfort afterwards but that didn't happen. Today I have had no problems and have commenced a well-balanced normal diet. As my bowel is completely empty I am not expecting much to happen for a few days.

Overall I think that the professionalism of the whole team made a huge difference, I was made to feel that I mattered. The whole ‘putting the patient first’ NHS initiative was certainly demonstrated by this particular team.

When you are advised by your GP to have a colonoscopy do accept the advice. However do also discuss your concerns with him/her and also with the team that you are referred to as they need to understand how you feel.

Colorectal cancer is very common and this amazing imaging technique can identify it early on - and it may well save your life.

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chrony said on 13 October 2011

Just to say i am a woman of 39 who has just had a colonoscopy, never again, it was 15 minutes of excrutiating agony, even WITH an aparent sedative, the consultan himself did the procedure, it was obvious to me and everyone else that it was painful as i was yelping and lifting my body off the bed. to make things worse i also saw the whole thing on a monitor in front of me, while this may be interesting to some, i felt the probe go around every corner, pushed up and down, and then had the pleasure of 6 tiny biopsy's. It hurt, the nurses said it would not, and the consultant ignored my pain. I have had 4 natural childbirths, and this comes close to pain. I have to say i had a colonoscopy 10 years previous and felt no pain and had sufficient sedation. I will never have this procedure done again. Im dissapointed, and also incontinent still 2 days after.

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briwill said on 07 June 2011

May I say,as a 68 year old male,the colonoscopy treatment I had recently was the most painful experience of my life. The NHS doctor who performed it was young and was being overseen and advised by a senior.The pain whilst the camera was going around bends in the colon was excrutiating. I was not offered any sedation before the treatment which I find a total mystery for a man of my age. Since coming home I could not urinate for 36 hours or go to the toilet to empty my bowels for several days.The pain in my back passage has been severe for several days too. Beware of the possible consequences if your G.P. suggests you have one. Briwill

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