If you shudder at the thought of having a colonoscopy, a test to check for hidden colon cancer, chances are it's the "prep" that's stoking your apprehension. It's certainly a major inconvenience: getting ready for the procedure takes much longer — an average of 16 hours, according to one study — than the three hours or so you'll spend at a medical center the day of your colonoscopy. But what's most off-putting is the purgative part: taking a powerful bowel-clearing substance and coping with the resulting diarrhea.
Preparing for a colonoscopy may be uncomfortable and time-consuming, but it needn't be an ordeal. Here are some things you can do to help it go as smoothly and comfortably as possible:
1. Make sure you receive your colonoscopy prep instructions well before your procedure date, and read them completely as soon as you get them. This is the time to call your clinician with any questions and to buy the bowel prep she or he has prescribed. Pick up some medicated wipes (for example, Tucks or adult wet wipes with aloe and vitamin E) and a skin-soothing product such as Vaseline or Desitin — you're going to be experiencing high-volume, high-velocity diarrhea.
2. Arrange for the time and privacy you need to complete the prep with as little stress as possible. Clear your schedule, and be at home on time to start your prep. If you have children or aging parents who need attention, have someone else be available to them while you're indisposed.
3. Water can get boring, so keep a variety of clear liquids on hand. On the day before your colonoscopy — when you're restricted to clear liquids — you can have popsicles, Jell-O, clear broth, coffee or tea (without milk or creamer), soft drinks, Italian ice, or Gatorade. To make a bad-tasting liquid prep like magnesium citrate easier to swallow, try one or more of the following if it doesn't come flavored: add some Crystal Light or Kool-Aid powder (again, not red, blue, or purple); add some ginger or lime; drink it chilled; drink it through a straw placed far back on your tongue; hold your nose and drink it as quickly as possible; quickly suck on a lemon slice after you finish each glass; hold a lemon or lime under your nose while you drink; suck on a hard candy after each glass.
4. Wear loose clothing, and stay near the bathroom. Better yet, once the preparation starts to work, stay in the bathroom — because when the urge hits, it's hard to hold back. Consider setting up shop near the toilet with music, your laptop, magazines, or books.