The main purpose of the colonoscopy screening test is to help doctors detect and potentially treat problems in the colon before they become something serious (such as cancer). A colonoscopy can also help doctors determine what's causing digestive symptoms such as unexplained weight loss, rectal bleeding, abdominal pain or sudden changes in bowel habits. (According to the American Cancer Society, these can all be signs of cancer, but are more commonly caused by something less serious, such as an infection, hemorrhoids, irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease. 5)
A colonoscopy typically takes 20 to 60 minutes to complete, and involves having a doctor insert a colonoscope — a long, thin flexible tube that has a camera at one end — through the anus to examine the entire colon. The doctor will give you sedation beforehand, so you shouldn't feel anything while it's happening, say doctors at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute 1. Afterwards, however, you may experience some discomfort.
Two of the most common side effects of a colonoscopy are bloating and cramping from gas that has collected in the abdomen during the procedure. This is completely normal, according to experts at Johns Hopkins Medicine 8. The gassiness is usually harmless, but it can be quite uncomfortable. Fortunately, there are some easy ways to feel better fast.
What Causes Gassiness After a Colonoscopy?
During a colonoscopy, the doctor will pump either carbon dioxide or air into the colon in order to inflate it and make it easier to see the colon with the colonoscope. This air forms air pockets that can create some of the annoying post-colonoscopy symptoms. “It will cause them gas pains.”
Today, more and more doctors are using carbon dioxide instead of air to expand the colon. Studies have shown that using carbon dioxide usually results in less gas retention, and therefore “greatly decreases the chances of having [gas] pain [afterward],” says Dr. Ashcraft.
- During a colonoscopy, the doctor will pump either carbon dioxide or air into the colon in order to inflate it and make it easier to see the colon with the colonoscope.
How to Treat Post-Colonoscopy Gassiness
Abdominal Pain After Colonoscopy
You can also treat post-colonoscopy gassiness by taking a medication called simethicone, available in over-the-counter products such as:
- Phazyme Maximum Strength
- Mytab Gas Multiple Strength
- Maalox Anti-Gas
- Alka-Seltzer Anti-Gas
But even though these drugs may provide quick relief, “getting up and walking around is far more efficient” when it comes to alleviating colonoscopy-induced gas pains, says Dr. Ashcraft. (By the time a gas-relief pill has traveled all the way to your colon, you could already have released a large amount of gas just by walking, he points out.)
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How Often Should One Have a Colonoscopy?
- Dana-Farber Cancer Institute: “Understanding upper endoscopy and colonoscopy.”
- Mayo Clinic: "Simethicone (Oral Route)."
- National Library of Medicine: "Simethicone."
- John Ashcraft, DO, associate professor of surgery and chief of colon and rectal surgery, University of Kansas Medical Center, Kansas City
- American Cancer Society: "Signs and Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer."
- Massachusetts General Hospital: "Colonoscopy Bowel Preparation Instructions ."
- University of Michigan: "Simethicone."
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Colonoscopy."
- JackF/iStock/Getty Images