Gastrointestinal Tract

This diagram is courtesy of Pfizer Australia. 

What is the Colonoscopy procedure?

Colonoscopy is a relatively safe and well tolerated method of examining the large intestine or colon. Colonoscopy is a procedure used to examine or inspect the bowel and allows for a variety of operations to be carried out through the colonoscope.  These operations may include taking small tissue samples (biopsy) and removal of polyps. 

An alternative method of examining the large bowel is barium enema or CT scanning.  Colonoscopy has the advantage over radiological imaging for allowing tissue samples such as biopsies to be taken or polyps to be removed.

The colonoscope is a long and highly flexible tube about the thickness of your index finger.  It is inserted through the rectum into the large intestine to allow inspection of the whole large bowel.  As cancer of the large bowel arises from pre-existing polyps (a benign wart-like growth), it is advisable that if any polyps are found they should be removed at the time of examination.  Most polyps can be burnt off (polypectomy) by placing a wire snare around the base and applying an electric current.

What is the Gastroscopy procedure?

Gastroscopy, or upper Endoscopy, is a safe and well tolerated method for examining the upper gastrointestinal tract.  This includes the oesophagus (gullet), the stomach and the duodenum (upper small bowel). It involves the use of a flexible tube to examine the upper intestinal tract including the oesophagus, stomach and duodenum.  The procedure is commonly undertaken if your doctor suspects that you have inflammation of the oesophagus (the pipe which connects the throat to the stomach), an ulcer, inflammation or other abnormality of the oesophagus, stomach or duodenum.  

The examination is done following sedation which is given into a vein.  It is very unlikely you will have any recollection of the procedure as you will be very sleepy/asleep during the procedure. 

The risks of the examination are minimal.  It is extremely uncommon to have an allergy to the drugs used.  Occasionally it is necessary to perform interventional procedures through the endoscope, such as oesophageal dilatation in the presence of a stricture, or removal of polyps from the upper intestine.  Potential complications include:

How do I prepare for my Colonoscopy?

Prior to the colonoscopy you will be provided with a preparation kit containing full instructions.  The day before your procedure you will need to be on clear fluids only throughout the day. On either the evening before and/or the morning of the procedure you will need to drink a quantity of salty tasting solution which completely cleanses the colon.  Some people find the prep quite unpleasant and it may cause nausea, vomiting and abdominal pains.  If you have any symptoms which concern you while drinking the prep, please phone the Endoscopy Unit where you are having the procedure.

You will be given a sedative through a vein in the arm or hand before the procedure to make you more comfortable.

As x-ray screening may be used during the procedure, it is essential for female patients that there is no possibility of pregnancy.  You must advise the nursing staff if you have any doubts about this. You should advise the nursing staff if you are sensitive (allergic) to any drug or other substance.

You should cease iron tablets and drugs to stop diarrhoea at least several days before the procedure. Please do not stop any blood thinners or anti-coagulants unless directly advised to by your doctor. You should also inform your doctor if you have heart valve disease or have a pacemaker implanted.

How do I prepare for my Gastroscopy?

While fasting, take all your regular medication with a sip of water.  If you are diabetic, please contact your endoscopist to discuss this. You will be given sedation by injection during the procedure.  The procedure will take between 5 and 15 minutes and you will be sleepy for about half an hour afterwards.

After your procedure.

Gastrointestinal endoscopy is usually simple and safe.  It is very unlikely to cause any serious problems for patients. 

For Colonoscopy patients, the sedative painkiller you are given before the procedure is very effective in reducing any discomfort.  However, it may also affect your memory for some time afterwards.  Even when the sedative appears to have worn off, you may find you are unable to recall details of your discussion with the doctor.  For this reason, a relative or friend should come with you if possible.  If you do not recall discussions following the procedure, you should contact your doctor.

If you have any severe abdominal pain, bleeding from the back passage, fever or other symptoms that cause you concern, you should contact your doctor immediately.