Air Pocket After a Colonoscopy

It's common to experience gas pain in your abdomen after a colonoscopy. Here are easy ways to get rid of the gas and the discomfort.

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.)

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. 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. 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. “When you remove the scope, a lot of people are left with a significant amount of air in the colon,” says John H. Ashcraft, DO, chief of colon and rectal surgery at the University of Kansas Health System in Kansas City. “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.

How to Treat Post-Colonoscopy Gassiness

The key to getting rid of gas pains and cramping after a colonoscopy is to pass as much gas as you can right after the procedure (without being embarrassed), says Dr. Ashcraft. By far the best way to do this is by simply walking around. “Moving stimulates the colon,” he explains. “The more you walk, the more you expel gas.” Thanks to the anesthesia, you’ll be feeling groggy for an hour or so after the procedure, but once the sedative wears off, you shouldn’t have any problem getting up and walking around. Your medical team will let you know when it’s safe to start moving.

Eating is another great way to encourage flatulence after a colonoscopy — and most people are feeling pretty hungry then anyway, since they've typically been fasting for several hours in preparation for the procedure.

“When you fill your stomach, the colon gets ready for a new bolus of food," explains Dr. Ashcraft. "It contracts, and you pass gas.” Once the effects of the colonoscopy sedative have worn off, you can eat as soon as you like (although some people may feel a little nauseated from the anesthesia).

You can also treat post-colonoscopy gassiness by taking a medication called simethicone, available in over-the-counter products such as Gas-X, Phazyme Maximum Strength, Mytab Gas Multiple Strength, Maalox Anti-Gas and 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.)

If you do decide to try simethicone, you can choose between liquid, capsules, chewable tablets or oral strips, according to research published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Taking the drug after meals and at bedtime is most effective. Per experts at the Mayo Clinic, the drug usually doesn’t have any side effects, and it doesn’t tend to interact with other medications. However, don’t take simethicone products if you are allergic to simethicone, and always tell your doctor about any other medications you may be taking — even vitamins and supplements — as they could affect your post-colonoscopy recovery.