How to make your colonoscopy prep easier

Adults drinking colonoscopy prep solution
There are ways to make colonoscopy prep easier. Here are 13 tips.

Surging numbers of young people are getting colorectal cancer, a potentially deadly disease that starts in polyps that form in the inner lining of the colon or rectum.

One in five new colorectal cancer cases now occurs in individuals in their early 50s or younger, and they’re being diagnosed in advanced stages, colonoscopy, the recommended colorectal cancer screening.

Why? Typically, it’s because they dread “colonoscopy prep,” the at-home, hours-long process of drinking a salty solution that cleans your colon.

Fortunately, there are now new ways to make the colonoscopy prep easier, said UChicago Medicine gastroenterologist Benjamin H. Levy III, MD.

Here are some tips he regularly gives his patients:

Try one of the new preps

Ask your physician if one of the new colonoscopy preps is an option for you. Popular alternatives are newer, low-volume versions, which lets you drink a smaller quantity of prep mixture rather than the usual 1-gallon jug.

Another new option involves consuming 24 tablets. (Patients swallow 12 with water the night before a colonoscopy and 12 more the morning of the procedure.) Both options work well to empty the bowels.

Mix the colonoscopy prep with lemon-lime Gatorade or Crystal Light

Mix the traditional GoLYTELY prep drink with some lemon-lime Gatorade, or a clear flavor of Crystal Light. It’ll make the prep medication taste better.

Use a flavor packet

The GoLYTELY prep drink sometimes comes with a few different flavor packet options, including pineapple, lemon or berry.

Drink it with a chaser

After each glass of the salty prep solution, drink a few sips of white grape juice or apple juice to leave a good taste in your mouth. Avoid dark colored juices.

Chill it and shake it

Refrigerate the prep before drinking it. That will make it more palatable. Also, be sure to shake the mixture before drinking it.

Use a straw

A straw will help contain the taste and make the prep go down faster and easier.

Split-dosing the prep

Your doctor can guide you on how to split the doses, drinking half of the solution at 6 p.m. the night before your colonoscopy and the second half later that night. Split-dosing improves tolerability and improves stool clearance from the colon.

Blot to avoid irritation

The frequent bathroom trips involved in pre-colonoscopy prep mean you’ll be using a lot of toilet paper. If you wipe too aggressively, you can develop some irritation around the anus. Try dabbing the toilet paper or use flushable wet wipes.

Focus on the goal

Colorectal cancer can be a deadly disease. While the prep can be unpleasant, stay focused on the goal. Colonoscopies are an amazing tool to remove pre-cancerous polyps that form and grow as we age. Every time doctors remove a significant polyp, it prevents colon cancer. One night of discomfort – once every five or 10 years – is a small price to pay to prevent cancer or detect colorectal cancer in its early stages. Early detection increases your odds of survival.

Stay hydrated

Stay hydrated the day before your colonoscopy. Starting at breakfast, drink clear fluids, including water, tea, apple juice, lemon-lime Gatorade or Powerade, ginger ale and chicken broth. Don’t drink any colored foods or liquids, as they could interfere with the test results.

Set aside time

Don’t try to squeeze in errands while doing your prep. Clear your schedule so you can be home. You’ll need to be near your bathroom all evening.

Do it right the first time

You might be tempted to quit or cheat with foods while completing the colonoscopy prep. If your colon isn’t clean enough, you might have to repeat the colonoscopy or perform surveillance at a sooner interval.

Don’t let fear take over

Colonoscopies are such a fantastic tool for preventing cancer. The hardest part is taking the prep.

“Once you’re done with that, it’s actually pretty easy,” Levy said. “You’re asleep during the procedure, and once you wake up, you don’t even know anything’s happened. Then you can eat an amazing lunch and have the rest of the day to relax and watch TV.”

Colonoscopy alternatives

Colonoscopies are the most effective way to test for colon cancer and pre-cancerous polyps, but if you’re not willing to have a colonoscopy, there are other colorectal cancer screening options available.

Cologuard and a fecal immunochemical test (FIT) are stool-based tests that can effectively screen for colorectal cancer. However, they need to be done more frequently. Cologuard is performed every three years while FIT is done yearly.

Also, if these tests come back positive, you’ll need a follow-up colonoscopy. These tests don’t allow doctors to preventatively remove polyps, but it’s still better than no screening at all.

“The earlier you can catch colorectal cancer, the better. The best thing you can do is prevent it by having a colonoscopy and removing polyps,” Levy said.

Benjamin Levy

Benjamin H. Levy III, MD

Gastroenterologist Benjamin H. Levy III, MD, specializes in diagnosing and treating a wide range of GI conditions. He is passionnate about patient education, and he has organized several national health education campaigns, including Tune It Up: A Concert To Raise Colon Cancer Awareness.

See Dr. Levy's physician profile