When To Schedule Your First Colonoscopy


A colonoscopy is an important yet often overlooked test that can help discover a number of gastrointestinal issues. While the preparation for it may be uncomfortable, a colonoscopy has the potential to save your life. It can catch colorectal cancer and other problems that are much easier to treat when they are detected early. Below, Birmingham Gastroenterology Associates has taken a deep dive into when to schedule your first colonoscopy and what you can expect from the procedure. 

What Happens Before a Colonoscopy?

Once you schedule an appointment for the procedure, your care team will ask you to stick to a clear liquid diet for 24 hours before the test. This means you may only consume plain water, clear broth, plain coffee, and tea. It’s also essential that you avoid red drinks as they can be mistaken for blood. 

In addition to these dietary changes, preparation consists of either consumption of a large volume of a special cleansing solution or several days of clear liquids, laxatives, and enemas prior to the examination. By following these pre-procedure protocols, you’ll help your doctor visualize your colon clearly and provide you with the valuable information you need about your colon and rectal health. Many people agree that preparing for a colonoscopy is more difficult than the procedure itself.

What Happens During a Colonoscopy?

Since a colonoscopy is performed under anesthesia in about 15-60 minutes, you’ll be comfortable and pain-free throughout it. During the test, your doctor will use a long, flexible tube with a small video camera to look inside your colon and rectum. They may also remove polyps or abnormalities with special tools. Any polyps that are removed may be sent off for a biopsy to determine if they’re benign, cancerous, or abnormal. 

When to Undergo Your First Colonoscopy

If you’ve never had a colonoscopy before, you may be wondering when it’ll be time for your first one. The general rule of thumb is to schedule your first exam before your 45th birthday, as long as you’re in reasonably good health and don’t have a family history of colon cancer. Once you undergo your first procedure, you should have one every 10 years until you turn 75. At 75, you may choose to continue to receive routine colonoscopies. This will be based on your overall health, life expectancy, and doctor recommendations. 

Do I Need My First Colonoscopy Before 45?

In some cases, it may be a good idea to get a colonoscopy before age 45. Here are some 

situations that might warrant earlier tests:

  • You’re at a higher risk of colon cancer: If you have certain medical conditions, such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or Lynch syndrome, you may be more prone to colorectal cancer than others. As a result, your doctor may recommend this procedure at an earlier time. 
  • You have a family history of colon cancer: Since colon cancer can run in families, you should receive your first colonoscopy at 40 years old or 10 years before your parent, sibling, or other family was diagnosed. 
  • You’re living with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD): Conditions such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis increase your risk for colon cancer and, in turn, warrant the need for an earlier colonoscopy. 
  • You have digestive issues: While this procedure is often performed to look for signs of colon cancer, it may also diagnose a variety of digestive issues. If you’re struggling with ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract, or any other related problems, you’ll benefit from a colonoscopy, even if you’re under 45.
  • Your doctor recommends it: There may be other reasons why you should get an early colonoscopy. If your doctor suggests it, it may be worthwhile, especially if you’d like to be proactive about your health and detect potential issues as early as possible.

Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Colonoscopy

Here at Birmingham Gastroenterology, we have decades of experience treating diseases and disorders in all parts of the digestive system. For any questions or to make an appointment, call us at (205) 271-8000.

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