Results After a Colonoscopy Exam


Your colonoscopy appointment is finally here. You’ve done your prep, the procedure is complete, so now what? The next step in your GI journey is discussing the results and findings of your colonoscopy procedure with your doctor. 

Immediately following your procedure, your doctor will discuss the findings of your colonoscopy with you and explain what they saw, review images, and talk about what’s next. Depending on the findings, your doctor may schedule a follow-up appointment to discuss lab or test results.

results after a colonoscopy

Your colonoscopy may result in any of the following findings:

  • Negative: No growths or polyps present.
  • Growths or colon polyps: Your doctor removed polyps during the procedure and may want to follow up after testing.
  • Bowel cancer: Your doctor may have taken a biopsy and will discuss next steps if cancer may be present.
  • Other conditions: If your doctor notices signs of other GI conditions, such as Crohn’s disease, diverticulitis, ulcerative colitis, or others, your doctor will speak with you to determine what’s next.

If your doctor finds cancerous or precancerous cells present during your colonoscopy, they may suggest additional interventions. These interventions can be another colonoscopy to further explore your condition or possibly surgery. 

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WHEN DO I GET MY COLONOSCOPY RESULTS

Once your colonoscopy has been concluded, your doctor will be able to relay any changes seen immediately. While the initial observations can be shared quickly, the results of any biopsies may take a week or so to come back.

Preliminary results often include your doctor’s observation of no signs of disease or growths, or they may mention that polyps were found and removed during the procedure. Your doctor will help paint the big picture of how your colonoscopy went.

It’s normal to have questions following your colonoscopy, especially since sedation is involved. Your doctor may deliver this information as your head is coming out of the fog, so don’t worry if you are still processing the procedure after you leave the clinic. You’ll leave with images and results in hand, so you can revisit the findings once you’re home and comfortable.

If your doctor removed any polyps that needed a biopsy, they will let you know when to expect those results. Typically, you will have results in one to two weeks.

WHAT IF THE DOCTOR FINDS ABNORMALITIES FROM A COLONOSCOPY

Hearing the word “findings” when it comes to your procedure may seem scary, but we assure you it’s not. Finding abnormalities like a polyp is actually extremely common! Nearly a quarter of colonoscopies include some type of abnormality, and the chance of finding polyps increases with age. Your doctor will remove polyps during your procedure whenever possible and send the tissue off to the lab for a biopsy for further testing.

Most of the time, biopsy results are benign, but biopsies are an important step in detecting colon cancer. Most colon cancers develop from this type of abnormality, so your doctor will do what they can to ensure all steps are taken for prevention.

In your colonoscopy results, your doctor will look for two things that can indicate precancerous or cancerous circumstances.

Large or Numerous Polyps: Most polyps are small, non-threatening, and unlikely to become cancerous. On the other hand, larger polyps can indicate a greater risk of cancer. These larger polyps typically measure one centimeter or greater.

Adenomas: Adenomas are a type of polyp and are most likely to contain precancerous cells. If adenomas are found, this doesn’t necessarily mean the biopsy will return positive for cancer, but there is a greater risk. Since there is a higher cancer risk associated with adenomas, your doctor will likely suggest more frequent screenings down the road.

WHAT IF THE DOCTOR FINDS SIGNS OF CANCER FROM A COLONOSCOPY

If your doctor finds signs of cancer during your colonoscopy, the growths in question will be biopsied and sent off to a pathologist for further examination and testing. Immediately after your procedure, your doctor will let you know whether they biopsied abnormal tissue and when you should be expecting results. At this point, you and your doctor only know what the growths look like and not the actual prognosis.

Your doctor will be looking for low-grade dysplasia or high-grade dysplasia. A growth with low-grade dysplasia only appears slightly abnormal, but growths with high-grade dysplasia may appear more like a precancerous growth.

Remember, if your doctor initially observes a growth that looks cancerous, does not mean the biopsy will tell the same story. A colonoscopy procedure is only the first screening, and the biopsy results will give you the full picture once completed.

WHAT DO I DO AFTER I GET MY COLONOSCOPY RESULTS

Once the results are in, and you hear “negative,” simply continue to follow your doctor’s recommended screening schedule based on your medical history, genetics, and age. 

If you receive a positive result, your doctor will determine your next steps based on your unique circumstances. Even if the biopsy does not show signs of cancer, your doctor may recommend more frequent screenings to make sure any future growths are handled as soon as possible.

Your doctor may recommend additional treatment if an adenoma or other abnormal polyp was unable to be removed during the screening, such as surgery. If a precancerous or cancerous growth was found, additional treatment may be required as well.

WHAT TO DO AFTER A COLONOSCOPY

Finally, your screening is complete, and now you’re eager to know what’s next. First, you will stay in a special recovery room to give your sedative time to wear off. Next, head home and get comfortable, as it’s important to get some rest after your procedure. It’s unsafe to drive or work after your procedure, so be sure someone is there to take you home.

Your doctor or nurse will instruct you on how soon you can eat or drink following your colonoscopy and when you’re able to return to your normal routine. If a biopsy was taken, your doctor will let you know how soon to expect those results, discuss next steps, and talk through any dietary adjustments that you may need to make based on their findings. 

Feeling some minor discomfort, like bloating, gas, or mild cramping, is completely normal following your colonoscopy. These symptoms should alleviate themselves within 24 hours and passing gas or walking around may help reduce any discomfort.

With your first bowel movement, you may notice small amounts of blood - that is normal, too. If the bleeding continues or your stool contains large amounts of blood or blood clots, consult your doctor immediately.

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

What are the most common results of a colonoscopy?

The most common results of a colonoscopy are hearing it was a clear, healthy screening or there were some small polyps present and your doctor was able to remove them. Both are common and normal, with polyps being found in approximately a quarter of colonoscopies. 

How much does a colonoscopy cost?

The total cost of a colonoscopy can greatly vary. Your medical insurance may cover all or part of the screening, depending on your insurance coverage and if your doctor needs to perform additional testing or tissue removal during your procedure. 

For instance, Medicare covers colonoscopies every 10 years for those who are not high risk, and every two years for those who are high risk. Colonoscopies can run in the range of several thousand dollars depending on your circumstances. Your doctor and the facility where your screening takes place can also affect the price. Talk to your insurance company about colonoscopy coverage.

Is it painful?

Colonoscopies are not typically painful. Generally, this procedure is performed using sedation, so the patient can be comfortable throughout the screening. Following the procedure, you may notice some mild stomach cramping, gas, and bloating, which should go away within 24 hours. In addition, you may notice some blood in your stool if your doctor took a biopsy or removed any abnormal tissue.

How long will it take to recover from a colonoscopy?

Most patients feel like returning to their normal routine within about 24 hours. We recommend taking it easy during the week of your colonoscopy, especially if your doctor removed polyps during the procedure. We want you to feel your best, so taking your time getting back to normal is an important step in recovery.

What should you not do after a colonoscopy?

We recommend avoiding any high-energy activities, like heavy lifting or exercise, after your procedure. Your doctor will instruct you on when it’s best to resume your regular activities.

What happens to your body after a colonoscopy?

Following a colonoscopy, you may experience bloating or passing gas for a few hours. It takes some time to clear the air from your colon, so walking around may help alleviate any discomfort. You may also notice some blood in your stool after your procedure, but no worries, this is normal.

How long after a colonoscopy will you poop?

After your colonoscopy, you may pass liquid or liquid stool, but your bowel movements should go back to normal after a few days. You may notice some blood in your stool if you’ve had a biopsy or tissue removal.

How long does diarrhea last after colonoscopy?

Some diarrhea is normal for a couple of days after your procedure, as it takes a few days for your bowel movements to return to normal. If you experience some abdominal discomfort, move around, drink hot beverages, and eat peppermints to alleviate any discomfort.

How will I feel the night after a colonoscopy? Can I sleep?

You may still feel some effects of sedation the night after your procedure, so you should not drive or operate any machinery. We recommend taking it easy after your procedure, as rest will help the recovery process. You may also feel gassy or experience bloating in the first 24 hours after the colonoscopy.

What happens if a doctor finds abnormalities during a colonoscopy?

If your doctor finds abnormal tissue, like polyps, they will most likely remove them then send the biopsy off to a lab for further testing. This will determine whether the growth was cancerous, precancerous, or benign. Depending on the results, your doctor may suggest more frequent colonoscopies to ensure any future growths are removed promptly.

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