Colonoscopy preparation tips

Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager Emeritus, Oncology, Social Work

JULY 30, 2019

Drinking Clear FluidsAmong all cancer screening tests, colonoscopies may be the most dreaded. There are varying recommendations about how often someone should have this test, ranging from every 7-10 years for those who have not had any worrisome results to annually for people who have had colon or rectal cancers. As always, the advice is to speak with your doctor about what is best for you.

Learn about colonoscopies at BIDMC.

You probably know that the most difficult part of this procedure is the prep, not the test itself. Once you get to the hospital or treatment center, you can (try to) relax and know that the worst is over. You will be given drugs to relax or sedate you during the test, and you may be given the option of watching on a TV screen as the doctor inserts the scope into your rectum and colon. Personally, I do not want to watch, and I don't want to feel or experience anything; I ask for drugs to sleep. Others feel differently.

Over the years, I have heard lots of stories about the prep for this test and have collected a number of useful suggestions. There are several different concoctions used for the prep itself, but they all have the goal of emptying and cleaning out your colon. It is important to follow the directions because you definitely want this to work and not have to do it a second time. Some instructions begin with a limited diet several days before the procedure, and they all insist on 24 hours of nothing but clear liquids.

Here is the colonoscopy prep list.

  1. There are more clear liquids than you might first think. Beyond plain water, there are bullion and jell-o and white grape and apple juice and popsicles. It is possible to buy broth at a Chinese restaurant which is much more flavorful than plain chicken bullion. Straight tea is usually acceptable and can provide caffeine.
  2. Include soda that you otherwise don't drink. This might be 7UP or Sprite, something that you don't care if you ever see again. More later about this.
  3. Try to schedule the appointment for as early in the morning as possible. You will be tired and hungry and will want to get this done and head home for a nap.
  4. Put the bottle of prep liquid in the refrigerator the day before. Move it to the freezer an hour or so before you need to drink it. Colder is better.
  5. Drink the prep through a straw; this avoids many taste buds.
  6. Best tip: Dilute the evil-tasting prep in a large glass of that 7UP or Sprite. Although this increases the volume that you have to swallow, it definitely disguises the taste.
  7. Remind yourself that this can be a life-saving test and, as a cancer patient or survivor, you have been through much worse.
Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.
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