Colonoscopy prep is one of the most dreaded steps when it comes to colorectal cancer screening, but it’s not optional. You must clean out your colon so the doctor can get a good look at the inside!
We’ve asked colorectal cancer survivors and caregivers who undergo colonoscopy prep often for their “expert” tips on surviving prep night. Here’s what they said:
1. Adjust your diet a few days before colonoscopy prep night.
Eating smaller portions and low-fiber foods a few days before you plan to do colonoscopy prep can help the evening go smoothly.
What to eat before bowel prep
What you choose to eat and drink a few days prior to a colonoscopy can impact how “clean out” night goes. Here’s what our advocates recommend:
- Digestive tea
- Steamed vegetables
- Lighter-colored foods
What not to eat before colonoscopy prep
- Nuts and seeds (including wraps and breads containing them)
- Red meat
- Fried, heavy foods
- Raw vegetables
- Corn, peas, apple skins and other fiber-filled foods that are hard to digest
- Anything bright red in color
Decrease meal size
Several survivors say decreasing the size of their meals a few days before starting colonoscopy prep also makes it go easier and smoother.
2. Drink the colonoscopy prep laxative cold.
Survivors recommend drinking the laxative cold – and through a straw for best results.
I put the prep drink in my large Tervis Tumbler with a straw. For some reason, drinking it with a straw helps me.” -Trish Lannon, stage III survivor
3. Choose yummy drinks for the liquid diet.
The day prior to a colonoscopy, patients need to fast and stick to a liquid diet. What you choose to drink can make or break your colonoscopy prep experience.
Favorite drinks for colonoscopy prep
- Organic low-sodium broth
- Really good JELL-O (not red, orange or purple)
- Martinelli’s Gold Medal apple juice
- White grape juice
- Flavored sparkling water
- 7-UP or Sprite
- Good coffee (without creamer)
- Gummy bears – pull out the red and purple ones, and suck the light ones for a little treat
Some survivors have also found electrolyte drinks, such as Pedialyte, can provide important hydration prior to the procedure.
“Pedialyte hydrates me better than water. I become dehydrated very easily and it makes for difficulty when putting in my IV before the test. It also now comes in packets so you can mix it yourself.” – Kristen Keesen, stage III survivor
4. Bathroom prep for bowel prep.
Once the colonoscopy prep laxative begins working, you’ll spend A LOT of time in the bathroom! Here’s what you’ll need to make it a good experience.
Dude wipes and Preparation H are two advocate favorites, but several brands produce medicated and non-medicated wet wipes.
Good toilet paper
Double-ply, soft toilet paper will be important as you prep for your colonoscopy. (And a critical must-have if you don’t use moist wipes.) Several brands make “gentle” toilet paper with aloe that can alleviate itching and burning – something that is common when you’re making frequent tips to the toilet.
Creams and oils
Some survivors say creams and oils can help either prevent or soothe irritation. Favorites include
- Coconut oil
- Butt paste
Some find that a cool, wet washcloth or drawing a bath also helps with irritation.
Phone chargers and light reading
“Charge your phone and get a good book to read – you will be in the bathroom a lot!” -Amanda Houston, stage II survivor
Whether you plan to be on your phone, laptop or tablet, find your chargers before your laxative drink kicks in. Magazines like Beyond Blue and videos with patient stories can remind you of the reason you’re going through colonoscopy prep night and its importance!
Elastic-waisted pants will be a lifesaver once the laxative begins working – you won’t have time to mess with buttons!
5. Double-check when to start drinking laxative.
Double-check your doctor’s instructions regarding when to begin your colonoscopy prep and bump it up a few hours earlier, if possible, so you’re not up all night rushing to the bathroom.
Depending on the prep recommended for you, your doctor’s office should indicate what time to begin taking either pills or the laxative drink. Some colonoscopy preps are taken in one evening, others may be a “split-dose” and taken between an evening and the following morning.
If you begin drinking the colonoscopy prep in the evening, bump up the start time a few hours earlier to prevent using the restroom all night. Each person’s body is different – for some, it works right away and others it takes several hours. Give yourself plenty of time for the laxative to start working.
Colonoscopy prep instructions
Despite what the packaging or instructions on your colonoscopy prep product may say, always check with your doctor’s office and know what time they advise you to stop drinking liquids. This can impact your anesthesia during the colonoscopy.
6. Finish all colonoscopy prep steps.
It may be tempting to stop drinking all of the colonoscopy prep if your stools are running clear, but it’s important to complete all of the steps.
It’s not uncommon for the laxative to work right away and within the first few trips! But, even if you start to “run clear,” meaning your stools have turned liquid and are lighter in color, it’s important to finish the entire colonoscopy prep process.
Many bowel prep products include several drinks or pills to take – make sure to take them all for a total cleanout and effective scope. If you’re wanting to quit early, just remind yourself the prep is the hardest part!
7. Ease back into eating.
After your colonoscopy, go easy on what you eat.
You may be starving after your procedure (you likely haven’t eaten in over a day), but your gut may take a few days to feel normal again. Don’t rush into a heavy, greasy meal – or you may regret it!
Some survivors say probiotics help the gut bounce back, and they avoid spicy foods for a few days if a polyp was removed.
8. Celebrate… and tell your family.
Practice self-care and be proud of yourself – you got screened! Don’t forget to tell your family about your results!
Many patients leave a colonoscopy and go for a good meal and a long nap. You won’t be able to drive or work following the procedure, so plan to take it easy for the rest of the day!
Because colorectal cancer risk is increased if you have a family history of polyps AND/OR colorectal cancer, share your results with your family – especially your children, parents and siblings.
If the doctor removed colon polyps, or any signs of cancer, it may take a few days, up to a few weeks, before biopsy results come in.
Your doctor’s office will follow up with next steps and when your next colonoscopy should be scheduled.
Get more colonoscopy prep tips
For more colonoscopy prep tips, or to learn about other ways to screen for colorectal cancer, download our Screening Mini Mag!