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What you need to know about a virtual colonoscopy:
A virtual colonoscopy is a type of x-ray test to examine the inside of your colon (large intestine). Healthcare providers use a CT scan or MRI to take pictures of your colon from outside your body. This procedure may be used to check for polyps (growths) or cancer. The size of a polyp may also be monitored. You may need this procedure to check if colorectal cancer has come back after you had treatment. A virtual colonoscopy may be used if you are not able to have a regular colonoscopy.
What you need to do the week before your virtual colonoscopy:
- If you are a woman, tell your healthcare provider if you know or think you are pregnant. CT scans are not used on pregnant women because of the risk to the unborn baby.
- Contrast liquid is given to help polyps and other problems show up better in the x-ray pictures. Tell your healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid.
- Talk to your healthcare provider about all the medicines and supplements you take. You will need to stop taking medicines that contain aspirin or iron for 7 days before your colonoscopy. If you take an anticoagulant, such as warfarin, ask when you should stop taking it.
How to prepare for your virtual colonoscopy:
Your healthcare provider will have you prepare your bowels before your procedure. Your bowels will need to be empty before your procedure to allow him or her to see your colon clearly.
- Start a clear liquid diet 1 to 2 days before your procedure. Clear liquids include plain gelatin, unsweetened fruit juices, clear soup, and broth. Do not drink any liquid that is blue, red, or purple.
- Do not eat foods that are hard to digest. These include fruits, vegetables, cereal, nuts, peas, beans, popcorn, and tomatoes. Ask your healthcare provider for a list of foods to avoid. If you are having an MRI colonoscopy, you may also need to avoid any food that contains manganese (a metal), such as chocolate.
- Follow your bowel prep as directed. Many different preparations can be given before a colonoscopy. Some are given over 2 hours and others over 6 hours. Some are given earlier in the afternoon the day before the colonoscopy. Others are given the day before and then the morning of the colonoscopy. With any bowel prep, stay close to the bathroom. This liquid will cause you to have frequent bowel movements.
- An enema may be needed. Your healthcare provider may tell you to use an enema to help clean out your bowels.
- Drink contrast liquid the night before your procedure. You will be given the liquid and instructions to follow. Drink the contrast liquid after you finish all of your bowel prep medicine.
What will happen during a virtual colonoscopy:
- Your healthcare provider may give you medicine that will relax your colon. You will be asked to lie on your left side or on your stomach and raise one or both knees toward your chest. Your healthcare provider will examine your anus and use a finger to check your rectum. Your healthcare provider will gently insert a thin, flexible tube into your rectum. If a CT colonoscopy will be done, air or carbon dioxide will be put into the tube. In an MRI colonoscopy, warm water or solutions with contrast liquid will be passed through the tube and into your colon.
- During your procedure, the bed you are lying on will be moved inside the CT or MRI tube. Pictures will be taken as the bed or table moves and as you change positions. You may be asked to lie on your back or stomach. If the bowel is not expanded enough, more air or gas will be pumped into your rectum. You will have to hold your breath and stay still as each picture is taken.
What will happen after a virtual colonoscopy:
- You may have some cramping or feel bloated for about an hour after the procedure. Relieve gas and discomfort from bloating by lying on your right side with a heating pad on your abdomen. You may need to take short walks to help the gas move out. Eat small meals until you do not feel bloated.
- When your healthcare provider sees that you are okay, you will be able to go home. If your healthcare provider wants you to stay in the hospital, you will be taken back to your hospital room.
- You should be able to go back to your normal daily activities and eat your regular foods right after the procedure.
Risks of a virtual colonoscopy:
A virtual colonoscopy may not find certain polyps or other problems in your intestines. Your healthcare provider will not be able to remove growths or take tissue samples to be tested. If contract liquid is used, it may cause you to have headaches, nausea, vomiting, flushing, or itchiness. You could also have an allergic reaction to the liquid. You may feel a little pain or discomfort as the small tube is placed inside your rectum. Your colon may get perforated (torn) due to increased pressure. If this happens, you will need to stay in the hospital and have surgery on your colon.
Seek care immediately if:
- You have severe pain anywhere in your abdomen.
- You feel full, bloated, or are not able to have a bowel movement.
- You have sudden trouble breathing.
- You are dizzy or weak.
- Your abdomen becomes tender and hard.
- Your bowel movements are black or have blood in them, or you are bleeding from your anus.
- Your vomit has blood in it.
Contact your healthcare provider if:
- You develop a rash or hives.
- You have a fever within 24 hours of your procedure.
- You have nausea or are vomiting.
- You have problems having a bowel movement or urinating.
- You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.
Relieve gas and discomfort from bloating
by lying on your right side with a heating pad on your abdomen. You may need to take short walks to help the gas move out. Eat small meals until you do not feel bloated.
Help prevent constipation:
- Eat a variety of healthy foods. Healthy foods include fruit, vegetables, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, beans, lean meat, and fish. Ask if you need to be on a special diet. Your healthcare provider may recommend that you eat high-fiber foods such as cooked beans. Fiber helps you have regular bowel movements.
- Drink liquids as directed. Adults should drink between 9 and 13 eight-ounce cups of liquid every day. Ask what amount is best for you. For most people, good liquids to drink are water, juice, and milk.
- Exercise as directed. Talk to your healthcare provider about the best exercise plan for you. Exercise can help prevent constipation, decrease your blood pressure and improve your health.
Follow up with your healthcare provider as directed:
Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.
Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.