Is a Colonoscopy Painful?

So, your doctor has said you need a colonoscopy and you may wonder if a colonoscopy is painful or not. The test looks at the inside of your colon using a tube that is very thin, light, and flexible. This helps your doctor see any polyps, signs of colon cancer, bleeding, inflamed areas, and signs of bowel disease. They can collect tissue to look under the microscope and remove any growths. This article will give you some accounts of others' experiences with this test, guidelines for having it done, and outline any risks the test may have. Read on for more information about colonoscopy.

Is a Colonoscopy Painful?

For the most part, people who have a colonoscopy state it is not a painful procedure. There are some complaints of mild cramping when a gas is introduced into the bowel area, but it is usually only temporary. Doctors offer a mild sedative to make the procedure more comfortable, but you are still awake.

Because the test uses a very thin tube, you don't feel much of anything going in. The tube is flexible so it shouldn't hurt when the doctor rounds corners inside the intestines. Most people who have the test state they did not feel any pain other than some cramping from the air.

Here are some experiences of others:

"My colonoscopy felt uncomfortable, but it wasn't too painful. I didn't like the prep I had to do before the procedure. I had to drink a gallon of laxative solution and spent the entire two days before the test in the bathroom. I'm sure when I went in for the test, my bowels were perfectly clear and shiny clean because by the end of the prep there was nothing but clear water. I got no sleep!

When I went in for the test, I was in and out in about 15 minutes. I did notice a slight pain and some cramping when they put the air in my colon. It really just felt like bad gas cramping for a few minutes. The doctor did offer me a sedative, but I didn't take it. As soon as the test was over, the discomfort was gone. I had some gas for a little while but that cleared up by the time I went home. It really was an easier test than I predicted." Mark, age 55

"I took my wife for her first colonoscopy about a month ago. It seems to me like the worst part of the test is the bowel cleanse you have to do starting a few days before. She had to eat a special diet the week before and take oral laxatives. Then the day before they made her drink a liquid laxative that almost made her throw up. Then she was in the bathroom the whole night. Once the test started, she said she didn't feel much pain at all. Just a little discomfort from the gas bubble they put in there to see better. She said it was a very easy test and that if they ever needed to do another one she would have no problem doing it. Is a colonoscopy painful? Well, maybe with the laxative part, but not the test itself." John, husband of Sara

When Do You Need a Colonoscopy?

It is usually recommended that everyone have a screening colonoscopy at the age of 50. If the doctor doesn't find any polyps, signs of disease, or cancer you won't need another one for 10 years.

If a small polyp or two are found and removed, your doctor may recommend another test in 5 years to follow-up. If a polyp does show pre-cancer, 5 years is okay. If the polyps are not cancerous, your doctor may even stretch your next exam to 10 years anyways.

If you have never had a colonoscopy and wonder, "Is a colonoscopy painful?" you may have even more anxiety thinking about having the test done multiple times. Understand your doctor won't want to do this test too often and they discontinue testing after you turn 75 years of age.

How Is It Done?

The colonoscopy test requires some initial preparation, so the doctor can see clearly inside your bowels and lower intestine. This requires a complete "clean out" of any fecal material.


Your doctor will give you specific instructions on how you should prepare for your colonoscopy. Some of the common things are:

  • Dietary changes
  • Clear liquid diet
  • Oral laxatives
  • One day before the test, you will drink a liquid laxative to completely clean your bowel and lower intestines.

The liquid laxative will cause you to have frequent bowel movements the day and night before the test. This can be uncomfortable. This will help the doctor see the tissue on your intestinal walls better.

Day of Testing

You will be informed that you need to have someone bring you and drive you home from the procedure. The mild sedative they give you will make you unable to drive or go back to work after the procedure. You may be able to resume normal activity the next day depending on how you recover.

Expect the procedure to last anywhere from 15 minutes to 1 hour depending on if the doctor has to remove any polyps or tissue. For the most part, the procedure does not take very long at all.

  1. You will most likely have an IV line inserted into your vein. The doctor will inject medication that will calm your nerves and make you feel a little sleepy.
  2. They will have you lie on the left side to help the scope go in easier.
  3. The doctor will insert the scope, which is a very thin tube that has a light and camera on it. This will help them see the tissues lining your colon walls.  
  4. The next step is to add some air through the tube into the colon. This helps expand the colon walls so the doctor can see all of the walls and tissues. This may cause gas cramps in your tummy for a few minutes.
  5. After the doctor is finished looking, the scope is removed.

The best thing about a colonoscopy is that the scope has instruments the doctor can use to remove any polyps or abnormal tissue during the procedure. This helps alleviate the need for unnecessary surgeries.

Will There Be Any Risks Involved?

Is a colonoscopy painful? Not usually. The pain is usually mild cramping that goes away quickly. If you are having a colonoscopy, you do need to be aware of a few risks involved with the procedure. A colonoscopy is generally considered very safe, but some people may experience:

  • Bleeding
  • Laceration or tears in the colon wall (rare)
  • Infection
  • Inflammation
  • Abdominal pain
  • Complications with blood vessel disorders or heart disease

In case of complications, you may need to stay overnight in the hospital. Bleeding may need blood transfusions, bowel surgery, and antibiotics for infections.

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