Colonoscopy: What to expect before, during and after your procedure


Colonoscopy is the preferred colon cancer screening test. It takes 15 to 30 minutes to complete, and is performed at an outpatient surgical center or hospital.

The following is what you can expect before, during and after your procedure:

Before: Schedule your procedure

After your primary care physician places an order in the system, you can schedule your colonoscopy by calling 310-825-7540. Make sure someone is available to drive you home, and remember to take the day off work.

  • 3 days before: Start a low-residue diet and limit high-fiber foods.
  • 2 days before: Pick up your bowel prep medication from a pharmacy, per your physician’s orders. Confirm your ride home.
  • 1 day before: Follow bowel prep instructions to clear out your colon before your procedure and stick to a clear liquid diet. If your colon is not completely emptied prior to the procedure, there is a chance that the doctor will miss an abnormality.

Day of your procedure:

  • Stop drinking clear liquids 2 hours before your procedure.
  • Wear something comfortable to your appointment.
  • Check in to the hospital or outpatient surgical center.
  • Change into a gown, and have an IV placed by a nurse.
  • Meet with your physician and your anesthesiologist to go over the procedure and ask any final questions.

During the procedure:

  • Undergo anesthesia and be put in a twilight sleep to minimize discomfort.
  • Your physician will use a thin, flexible tube with a light and camera attached, called a colonoscope, to look inside your colon for abnormalities.
  • Your physician will remove polyps and abnormal tissue, which will be sent to a pathology lab for testing.
  • The procedure takes 15 to 30 minutes, and the entire appointment takes 2 to 3 hours.

After the procedure:

  • You will be observed in a recovery room until the anesthesia wears off.
  • When you are discharged, you must have an adult accompany you home, even if you take a cab. Staff must be able to contact this person prior to your procedure.
  • You can resume your normal diet, unless otherwise directed.

1 day after: Return to work.

1 to 2 weeks after: You will receive biopsy results within a few weeks of your procedure. Your physician will also let you know the recommended time frame for your next colonoscopy.


This story ran in the Colon Cancer Awareness issue of The Checkup, a UCLA Health community newsletter on how to live your healthiest life.