Colonoscopy: Recovery

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Recovery from a colonoscopy is straightforward and lasts about a day. To aid in healing, it's important to adhere to any post-procedural instructions you are given, which often include resting, drinking lots of fluids, and avoiding driving for the first 24 hours.

Though there are some symptoms that warrant a doctor's evaluation after a colonoscopy, most people don't need to have their at-home recovery monitored in any way. Reviewing your test results with your doctor, however, is an important step after your procedure.

Woman drinking a glass of water in her kitchen

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Colonoscopy Follow-Up

The follow-up after your colonoscopy depends on whether any biopsies were taken, if polyps were removed, the overall findings, and your physician's preference.

Any tissue samples/removed polyps need to be examined by a pathologist under a microscope to determine if there are pre-cancerous, cancerous, or benign (noncancerous) cells present. This can take a few days.

Some doctors will discuss the pathology results over the phone or mail you and your primary care physician a formal copy of the report. Other doctors may want to discuss the results in person at a follow-up appointment.

If you have not heard back from your doctor within seven to 10 days of your test, be sure to call their office. Don't assume everything is fine because you haven't heard back.

In terms of specific results and the follow-up warranted, here are a couple of potential scenarios:

A normal colonoscopy means that none of the following findings below were detected:

If you are considered "average risk" for developing colon cancer and your colonoscopy is normal, then a repeat colonoscopy is not warranted for 10 years.

Of note, an average-risk individual is defined as someone who has none of the following:

An abnormal colonoscopy may occur for many reasons. For example, perhaps your doctor found an adenomatous polyp that is greater than or equal to 10 millimeters or an adenomatous polyp with high-grade dysplasia. In both of these cases, you will need a repeat colonoscopy in three years.

If colorectal cancer is found during your colonoscopy, you will need urgent (with a few days) follow-up with an oncologist for staging and a treatment plan.

Similarly, a colonoscopy that reveals other medical diagnoses, such as IBD, calls for close follow-up with a gastroenterologist.

Recovery Timeline

Once you are discharged (about 30 minutes to one hour after your colonoscopy), you will need to follow the instructions your doctor provided you for the next day or so. This will include:

  • Resting: You should be able to return to work and resume your regular activities the following day.
  • Resuming your normal diet
  • Avoiding certain medications (e.g., non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) if you had a biopsy done or a polyp 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 (e.g., signing legal documents) until the sedative medications wears off, which should take about 24 hours

When to Seek Medical Attention

While it's normal to experience mild cramping after your colonoscopy, call your doctor immediately or go to your nearest emergency room if you experience any of the below symptoms:

  • Fever or chills
  • A large amount of blood with bowel movements
  • An inability to pass gas
  • Trouble breathing, chest pain, or leg swelling
  • Persistent or severe abdominal pain, swelling, or hardening
  • Nausea and vomiting

Coping With Recovery

Most people are pleasantly surprised by how easy their colonoscopies ended up being. That said, waiting for any test results can be anxiety-provoking.

Distraction—perhaps by spending time with loved ones, listening to music or a podcast, or watching old movies—is a great tool to help you get through this potentially nerve-wracking time.

Keep in mind, too, that a colonoscopy is one of the most remarkable cancer screening tools. Not only can it pick up cancer in the earliest most treatable stages, well before people have symptoms, but it can prevent cancer by removing polyps before they even become cancerous.

This small bit of knowledge hopefully eases your mind a bit and helps you remain positive.

A Word From Verywell

In the end, a colonoscopy is a well-tolerated, safe, and effective procedure with a quick recovery. Knowing the importance of this test, you owe it to yourself to get it scheduled, rest and relax afterward, and follow-up as advised by your doctor.

What to Do After Your Colonoscopy (During the First 24 Hours)
Verywell / Brooke Pelczynski
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Article Sources
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  4. Cleveland Clinic. Reviewed October 2019. Colonoscopy Test Details.

  5. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Colonoscopy.