“Ooh, I love the way this colonoscopy prep tastes – bring it on!” said no one, ever.
Let me reassure you. It’s so common to dread it. In fact, it’s the procedure before the procedure that causes most people – myself included – the most angst. It’s hard to find an equivalent of unpleasantness. (All I can think of is going to the dentist times a zillion.)
But it’s a necessary evil. A squeaky-clean colon is the best – and only – way to detect colon polyps and colon cancer early, when it’s easiest to treat. Any debris or particle left behind could be covering up or hiding something serious lurking beneath the surface.
And squeaky-clean is the most important thing here, because if you don’t follow the instructions and clean out your colon as directed, the doctor can’t get a full view – and you may be sent home to repeat the prep. All over again. (My worst nightmare).
If the prep your doctor gives you is different from the one your friend got, it’s because there are many over-the-counter and prescription preps out there. Every doctor has their favorite that they swear is easiest to use. Or they may choose a specific one for you if you have a special health consideration (like constipation, or inflammatory bowel disease).
Among the available options: Miralax, GoLytely, MoviPrep, Prepopik, Suprep. Some require you to drink as much as a gallon, while others require just 10 ounces (but for the lower-volume preps, you’ll need to make up the difference in the amount of additional water you drink to get it moving through your system).
I’ve been having colonoscopies since I was 50 (although the new updated guidelines say you should begin at 45), and have used more than one of these. It seems that each time I go, my doctor raves about a newer prep that her patients like and insist it is “so much easier to take.” Um, no…I’ve never met a bowel prep I could attach the word “like’ or “easy” to.
And yet. There are ways to make the best of a bad situation.
To that end, I’ve scoured the Internet to find tips and tricks for making “the cleanout” a bit more tolerable. Some tips are from reputable organizations, like Mayo and Cleveland Clinic, while others are from actual patients, including colon cancer survivors. (Always check with your doctor first before following any of this advice):
A few days before…
- Don’t eat foods with small seeds (like cucumber, kiwi or bread with sesame seeds). These can get in the way of the cleansing process.
- If you’re constipated ahead of prep time, let your doctor know. He or she may instruct you to drink a laxative like magnesium citrate () so that you won’t be constipated on the day you start the cleansing process.
- Switch to a low-fiber diet a week before your exam, suggests the Colon Cancer Alliance.
- Start your soft diet a couple of days earlier than recommended.
- The day before the prep can only have clear liquids or foods like popsicles, Jello, clear coffee or tea and chicken broth. One patient says that she strains out the chicken and noodles from chicken noodle soup – which results in a better-tasting broth.
- Avoid any fluids containing red, blue or purple food coloring, whose color can mimic the color of blood in the colon.
Powering Through the Prep…
- Start the prep a few hours earlier than recommended so your sleep is not disrupted.
- Chill the prep and drink it through a straw.
- Suck on a hard candy after drinking the solution.
- Drink plenty of clear liquids; staying well hydrated helps to flush the prep through your system.
- Drink Pedialyte in addition to water for hydration.
- Some doctors advise a split-dose prep, meaning you’ll take half the prep the evening before and the other half the morning of the procedure. A recent study found that this, as compared to the conventional method, resulted in less intense bowel movements with a shorter duration, and improved bowel preparation, and was less inconvenience for the patient.
- If you use Golytely, mix it with orange or lemon-flavored Crystal light.
- Miralax mixed with Gatorade is easier to deal with, some people report. Chase it with cold water.
- One doctor tells her patients it’s okay to eat gummy bears (minus the red and purple ones during the prep, since they dissolve to a clear liquid at body temperature.
During the Prep…
- Stock up on baby wipes.
- Treat yourself to 3-ply, extra-soft toilet paper (make sure it’s unscented, to avoid irritation).
- Keep Preparation H, petroleum jelly or diaper rash ointment to ease soreness.
- Make sure your phone is fully charged and you have a good book or two to read while on the toilet to help pass the time.
The Finish Line…You Did It!
- The end of the colonoscopy. Bliss. Like waking up from a great nap.
- You can eat or drink whatever you want – but ease back in slowly.
- That first sip or bite will be heavenly, no matter what the food.
- You have permission to expel gas as often and as loud as you’d like.