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What To Expect if Your Child Needs a Colonoscopy

You might think colonoscopies are only for older adults to screen for cancer. But children sometimes have the procedure, too, to diagnose causes of abdominal pain, chronic diarrhea, rectal bleeding and unexplained weight loss.

What Is a Colonoscopy?

A colonoscopy is a test that allows your child’s doctor to look directly into the colon (large intestine) as well as the end of the small intestine (teminal ileum) with a long, flexible tube containing a camera that is inserted into your child’s rectum. During the procedure, the doctor may take tiny samples of tissue called biopsies. The biopsies often help determine the cause of your child's symptoms. Patients are sedated during this procedure, so they do not feel any pain or discomfort.

Preparing for Your Child’s Colonoscopy

The colon needs to be clear of stool in order for the doctor to view the colon and take samples as needed. That means your child will need to complete bowel prep, which consists of two parts: a clear liquid diet the day before the procedure and then ingesting a substance (often a liquid) that triggers bowel-clearing diarrhea.

A clear liquid diet usually means your child can have unlimited amounts of the following, as long as they are not red or purple:

  • Water
  • Clear juice
  • Clear broth
  • Soda
  • Black coffee
  • Tea
  • Iced tea
  • Gatorade
  • Gelatin
  • Popsicles
  • Italian ice
  • Hard candy

Your child should have nothing to eat or drink after midnight the night before the colonoscopy. Only sips of water may be taken up to four hours before the procedure.

After your child swallows the laxative solution, it’s a good idea to have a bathroom set up for easy access. Some kids may want to just hang out in the bathroom with their portable electronics while they wait for the urge to go, which can come on suddenly. Afterward, your child’s bottom is likely to be sore from the diarrhea. Plan to have medicated wipes and a skin-soothing product such as Vaseline or Desitin on hand.

What To Expect the Day of the Colonoscopy

Bring your child’s insurance card, identification and a list of their medications. You will need to arrive two hours before the procedure is scheduled. This gives the nurses time to help your child get ready by changing into a hospital gown, giving health information and having an IV started to undergo anesthesia. You can stay with your child until it’s time for the procedure. You will then be escorted to the waiting room until the procedure is finished.

After Your Child’s Colonoscopy

Immediately following the procedure and while your child is in recovery, the doctor will come and speak with you about observations during the colonoscopy. You will schedule a follow-up appointment at the doctor’s office to go over your child’s biopsy report. After your child is awake, you will be taken to the recovery room. Usually, nurses discharge children after they check for any pain or unusual symptoms and the patients have something to drink.

At home, your child should have a quiet rest of the day with activities like reading and watching TV. Your child is likely to nap after anesthesia. If your child is old enough to drive, that is not permitted for 24 hours after the colonoscopy. Your child can start right away with clear liquids, such as juice, soda or Pedialyte. If these are tolerated, they can resume their usual diet. Your child may have a slight sore throat after the procedure, which should pass quickly. Depending on how your child is feeling, normal activities can resume on the following day.

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