The Mighty Logo

A Beginner's Guide to Your First Colonoscopy

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Before I say anything else, let me say this: what you’ve heard is true. The prep is worse than the actual procedure.

This is based on my personal experience of getting colonoscopies every 2-3 years since I was 14 years old… but it’s also based on the dozens of people I’ve seen confirm that statement on social media. So before you go down the rabbit hole of worries that I also went down, rest assured that your first colonoscopy is going to go OK. 

If you’ve already gone down the rabbit hole, allow me to lovingly pull you up for some air. You’ve probably read things online that outline every single possible negative experience during a colonoscopy. Maybe you’ve even found some photos of the procedure, which I highly encourage you to close right now. Or perhaps you simply have pre-medical procedure nerves like I do, and you need to hear that colonoscopies are really common, relatively easy for most people, and considered an outpatient event. 

Let’s all take a collective deep breath and delve into some of the things I want you to know ahead of your first scope.

  1. The prep truly is the worst part. I won’t sugarcoat it (although someone should sugarcoat that stuff): the prep is disgusting. It’s like an overly salted Gatorade, but worse. I can’t make a recommendation of which prep you should use — that’s between you and your doctor — but what I can say is that prep has gotten a lot better since the early 2000s. Most people don’t have to drink a full gallon anymore; two liters is way more doable.
  2. Read the paperwork. If you’re the type of person who loves all the information, read all the paperwork that comes with the prep and ahead of the procedure. It’s there for a reason. 
  3. It’s OK to ask all the questions. Some things I’ve inquired about, particularly since moving out of state and getting my first colonoscopy with my new doctor, are:
    • Type of sedation that’s used
    • Intake and waiting process
    • Number of nurses in the room 
  4. Pick a trustworthy driver. This person will likely help you get dressed if you need and be the person to walk or wheel you out after your procedure. Choose someone that can be trusted to show up 100% in a medical setting.
  5. Take the time to relax. If you’re getting a scope first thing in the morning, chances are you were up most of the night drinking the prep. There isn’t much to do between checking in and starting the procedure, so feel free to close your eyes and relax as nurses prep your IV and transfer you to the procedure bed.
  6. Plan a post-scope meal. Unless there are any complications or other reasons not to, you’re OK to eat afterward. Pick your favorite meal and treat yourself!
  7. Ask when they start administering the medication. I always like to know when it’s starting, as it’s my experience that they start it slowly to help you relax. It’s something that eases my nerves when I know the medication is about to work.
  8. Take your time to wake up. One thing I’ve alerted my doctors about ahead of time is that I take longer than other people to wake up afterward. Nurses will come to usher you out to clear the bed, but don’t hesitate to have your driver advocate for you needing more time to get your wits about you.
  9. Remember that the colonoscopy will get you answers. If you’re flaring or having inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) complications, the colonoscopy is meant to provide answers for your next steps of treatment. If you’re in remission, hopefully the scope will confirm that once again!
  10. It’s normal to feel nervous. At the end of the day, sometimes easing anxiety is simply remembering that it’s OK to feel nervous. It’s nothing to get rid of; taking deep breaths can be helpful once you’ve checked in. 

You’ve got this. But if you’re still looking for more help before you arrive for your first colonoscopy, here’s another great article from a Crohn’s warrior with food prep recommendations to follow.

Originally published: December 6, 2022
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home