Virtual Colonoscopy: How To Prepare and What To Expect

November 12, 2012

Virtual Colonoscopy: How To Prepare and What To Expect

A virtual colonoscopy is designed to look for find signs of pre-cancerous growths such as large intestine disease, cancer and polyps in the colon and rectum.

Do you know what virtual colonoscopy? It’s a procedure that looks for signs of pre-cancerous growths known as polyps, cancer and other large intestine diseases. Doctors look for these signs by taking images using the computerized tomography (CT) or the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The computer will put together the images in an animated, three-dimensional view.

Colon, Rectum and Virtual Colonoscopy

The two key parts of the large intestine are the rectum and colon. While the colon is just one section of the large intestine, it’s also the biggest part of it. That’s why the terms are often used interchangeably. Digestive waste gets into the colon by way of the small intestine as semi-solid waste. As the waste makes its way to the anus, the colon eliminates the moisture and creates the stool. The rectum is just six inches long and connects the anus to the colon. Stool exits the body through the anus.

Preparation For A Virtual Colonoscopy

Your doctor will give you specific instructions on how to prepare for the virtual colonoscopy procedure. What you’ll need to do is a bowel prep and what you need to do is similar to the traditional colonoscopy. Basically, you need to empty out all solids from the GI (gastrointestinal tract) by following a clear liquid diet for one to three days before the actual procedure. The liquids that are acceptable to consume are:

  • Plain tea

  • Plain coffee

  • Water

  • Fat-free bouillon or broth

  • Gelatin

  • Sport drinks

  • Strained fruit juice

You might also need a laxative, which is medicine to loosen the stool and increase the bowel movements, the night before you have the virtual colonoscopy.

How Do Doctors To Do The Virtual Colonoscopy

The virtual colonoscopy will take no more than 10 minutes and doesn’t require any sedation. The following steps are done for the virtual colonoscopy:

  1. Patients lie face up on the table.

  2. A thin tube is placed into the anus and rectum. For the CT, carbon dioxide gas is pushed through the tube so that the large intestine expands. For the MRI, contrast media is given rectally so the large intestine expands.

  3. The table moves through the CT or MRI unit to generate a series of cross-sectional images of the colon.

  4. The doctor will ask the patient to hold their breath to keep the images steady.

  5. The process is then repeated while the patients are lying face down.

Virtual Colonoscopy Advantages

  • There’s no reason to insert a colonoscope into the whole colon.

  • There’s no reason to sedate a patient and patients can go home after the procedure is through.

  • The time it takes to do the procedure is less than traditional colonoscopy or lower GI series.

  • Images are clearer and have greater detail than traditional x-rays.

  • It can see inside the colon, which can be narrowed because of inflammation and abnormal growth.

Virtual Colonoscopy Disadvantages

  • You must do a bowel prep and have a tube inserted into the rectum, which will then expand the large intestine using either liquid or gas.

  • It doesn’t let the doctor remove any polyps or tissue samples.

  • It doesn’t note any pre-cancerous polyps if they’re less than 10 millimeters.

  • Many insurance companies like Medicare won’t pay for it.

  • It’s a rather new technology and isn’t widely available.

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