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Colonoscopy and Virtual Colonoscopy

Preparation For a Colonoscopy, a Virtual Colonoscopy (and a Sigmoidoscopy)

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To prepare for a colonoscopy or virtual colonoscopy, you will need to completely cleanse your intestines so the doctor can clearly see inside. Anything left in the colon ("residue") can mask polyps and cancers during the procedure and thus greatly affect the accuracy of the test. Residue can also prolong the amount of time the test takes which increases the possibility of complications. You may even have to repeat the test (and the cleansing). 

There are several types of preps available to cleanse intestines. Your health care provider will recommend one based on your age, medical history and physician preference. 

  • Discuss the available options with your doctor. Think about what is important to you do help make the decision which prep to use. For instance, a prep which includes consuming less liquid may cost you more, even if you have healthinsurance.
  • If you are overweight, studies indicate that it takes more to clean your colon. Ask your doctor about increasing the amount of laxative, or starting the cleansing a day early.

Start your prep early. Review the instructions a week before the proedure. For example, you will usually be advised to stop taking the following:

  • Iron medications for a week before the test.. Iron can produce a dark black stool which makes the view inside the bowel less clear. Iron preparations contain the words ferric or ferrous in them.
  • Aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, and other blood-thinning medications for several days before the test. Unless otherwise instructed, continue taking any regularly prescribed medication.
  • If any medication you are asked to stop taking was prescribed by another doctor, check with that doctor before stopping. If necessary, he or she may recommend alternative drugs on a temporary basis.

As part of the cleansing, you will likely be on a clear liquid diet for 1 to 3 days before the test. Clear liquids usually cannot be red, blue or purple, due to staining the colon and decreasing visibility. Examples of clear liquids are:

  • Clear coffee or tea
  • Fat-free bouillon or broth
  • Gelatin
  • Sports drinks
  • Strained fruit juices
  • Water
  • For additional information about a clear liquid diet, click here.

Some doctors allow patients to eat fiber-free solid foods which includes scrambled eggs, cheese and white bread. If this is of interest to you, be sure to ask your doctor about it.

A few practical tips to make preparation easier follow:

  • Toilet paper can be abrasive when used the amount of times needed to clean out your colon. Consider using flushable moist wipes or flushable baby wipes instead. Flushable wipes are available in your local pharmacy. Another alternative is to apply petroleum jelly (Vaseline) or A & D ointment to the skin around your anus after every bowel movement.
  • Use a hemorrhoid ointment with a local anesthetic in it before your bottom gets sore (for example, Nupercainal Ointment). The anesthetic produces numbness for a short period of time by stopping nerves from sending pain impulses to the brain. (If you are taking any drugs or supplements, check with your doctor first to be sure there is no negative interaction.)
  • Have something to do while on the toilet. For example, a good book or batch of magazines. If you work on a computer, a laptop and a wi-fi connection can allow you to continue to work.


  • If you schedule a colonoscopy for the first day of your work week, you do not lose any work time doing the preparation.
  • Schedule the colonoscopy for early in the day if possible when the doctor is most alert.
  • If when you are ready to leave home for the colonoscopy, if your stoool is still brown,let the nurse know when you arrive. You may be asked to use an enema for further cleaning before the procedure.
  • Find out if the place where you will have your colonoscopy has fruit juice available. If not, consider taking your own. It is advisable to drink 6 - 8 ounces of fruit juice after a colonoscopy. (Any drink will do, but fruit juice is better.)
  • Arrange to have someone take you home after the colonoscopy. Colonoscopies are done on an outpatient basis (you do not need to stay in a hospital). Outpatients must have someone take them home after the test because they will be impaired and unable to drive.

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