Colonoscopy: Recovery

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

Recovery from a colonoscopy, a procedure that examines your large intestine, usually lasts about a day. To help with healing, be sure to follow any post-procedure instructions. This may include resting, drinking lots of fluids, and not drinking alcohol for the first 24 hours.

Most people won't need to have their recovery monitored. However, if certain symptoms come up, you may need to check in with your healthcare provider. You can also expect your healthcare provider to reach out to go over your results with you.

This article discusses what to expect during your colonoscopy recovery, how to take care of yourself after the procedure, and what different test results mean.

What to Do After Your Colonoscopy (During the First 24 Hours)
Verywell / Brooke Pelczynski

Colonoscopy Recovery Instructions

Once you are cleared to leave after your procedure, you will need to follow your healthcare provider's instructions. This may include:

  • Resting the day of your procedure and resuming normal activity the next day
  • Resuming your normal diet
  • Avoiding certain medications (e.g., nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) if you had any tissue samples taken or growths removed
  • Drinking plenty of fluids to replace the ones lost during the bowel preparation
  • Avoiding alcohol for at least 24 hours
  • Not operating any machinery, including a car, or making any major decisions until the sedative medication wears off, which can take 24 hours

When to Seek Medical Attention

Call your healthcare provider immediately or go to the emergency room if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Fever or chills
  • A large amount of blood in your stool
  • Inability to pass gas
  • Trouble breathing, chest pain, or leg swelling
  • Long-lasting or intense abdominal pain, swelling, or tightening
  • Nausea and vomiting

Keep in mind that mild cramping after the procedure is considered normal.

Post-Colonoscopy Nervousness

Many may be pleasantly surprised by how easy their colonoscopies end up being. That said, waiting for any test results can feel anxiety-provoking.

Spending time with loved ones, listening to music or a podcast, and watching movies are great ways to help you get through this potentially nerve-wracking time.

Keep in mind that a colonoscopy is one of the most useful cancer screening tools. Not only can it pick up cancer in the earliest, most treatable stages, but it can also prevent cancer by removing harmful growths.

Colonoscopy Follow-Up

The follow-up after your colonoscopy depends on several factors including:

  • If biopsies, or tissue samples, were taken
  • If polyps, abnormal growths in the colon, were removed
  • The overall findings
  • Your healthcare provider's preference

Any tissue samples or polyps need to be examined by an expert known as a pathologist. The pathologist determines if the tissue is healthy, if cancer is present, or if the tissue is likely to become cancerous. It can take a few days to get these results.

Some healthcare providers will discuss the findings over the phone or mail you and your primary care provider a copy of the report. Other healthcare providers may want to discuss the results in person at a follow-up appointment.

If you have not heard back from your healthcare provider within seven to 10 days, be sure to call their office. It's important that you get a full report of the colonoscopy findings.

Colonoscopy Results

There are several possible colonoscopy results your healthcare provider may discuss with you.

A normal colonoscopy means that none of the following were seen:

  • An adenomatous polyp, a type of non-cancerous tumor (mass of tissue)
  • Sessile serrated adenoma/polyp, a pre-cancerous growth
  • Traditional serrated adenoma, a pre-cancerous growth
  • Hyperplastic polyp, a non-cancerous growth greater than or equal to 10 millimeters
  • Colorectal cancer, which is cancer found in the large intestine or rectum

If your colonoscopy is considered normal and you have an average risk of developing colon cancer, your healthcare provider will likely recommend another procedure in 10 years.

An average-risk individual is someone who has none of the following:

An abnormal colonoscopy means that a polyp, adenoma, cancer, or another problem was found. If yours is abnormal, you will likely need to have another colonoscopy in three years. You may also be referred to a specialist.

If colorectal cancer is found during your colonoscopy, you will need to have a follow-up within a few days with an oncologist. An oncologist is a doctor who provides treatment and care for those with cancer.

Depending on your colonoscopy results, you may also be referred to a gastroenterologist, a doctor who treats conditions related to the digestive tract.

Recap

A normal colonoscopy result means that you have an average risk of developing colon cancer in the future and can wait 10 years before having another colonoscopy procedure.

An abnormal colonoscopy result means that you will need to have another colonoscopy in three years or sooner and will likely be referred to a specialist for further evaluation.

Summary

A colonoscopy is a procedure that helps detect cancer as well as other issues related to the digestive tract. Colonoscopy recovery is usually very quick, with most people resuming normal activity the next day. Depending on your results, your healthcare provider may refer you to a specialist.

A Word From Verywell

For most people, recovering from a colonoscopy is an easy and quick process. Knowing the importance of this test, you owe it to yourself to get it scheduled, rest afterward, and follow up as advised by your healthcare provider.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is it normal to have blood in your stool after a colonoscopy?

    If your healthcare provider removed any polyps or took a biopsy during the procedure, yes, some bleeding is normal. For some, the bleeding may start a week or two after the colonoscopy. Talk to your healthcare provider if the bleeding is heavy or if you have any concerns.

  • What is the best thing to eat after a colonoscopy?

    You can usually return to a normal diet after the procedure. However, you may want to stick with light meals that are easy to digest. This may include crackers, toast, cooked vegetables, and chicken or fish with little seasoning. You might want to wait a day to consume foods that cause gas or bloating such as beans, onions, cabbage, and broccoli.

  • How long does it take to have normal bowel movements after a colonoscopy?

    It can take a few days for your body to make and pass stool again. The amount of time will vary from person to person.

Was this page helpful?
5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Kaiser Permanente. Colonoscopy: What to expect at home. Updated December 17, 2020.

  2. Cleveland Clinic. Colonoscopy test details. Updated October 2019.

  3. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Colonoscopy.

  4. Gupta S, Lieberman D, Anderson JC, et al. Recommendations for follow-up after colonoscopy and polypectomy: a consensus update by the US multi-society task force on colorectal cancerGastrointest Endosc. 2020 Mar;91(3):463-485.e5. doi:10.1016/j.gie.2020.01.014

  5. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Colonoscopy. Updated July 2017.