Side effects of colonoscopy
For most people a colonoscopy is straightforward, without serious side effects or complications. The sedative takes time to wear off, so people usually rest for a while before going home. People are usually pretty hungry after not eating the day before and are grateful for a cup of tea and a biscuit or a sandwich. People who have been sedated are not allowed to drive home themselves. The hospital will arrange transport for those who cannot get a lift from family or friends. Many said they had had no side effects after the colonoscopy apart from feeling a bit sleepy.
After the colonoscopy he felt slightly 'woozy' and rested in a side ward until the sedative had...
Slightly woozy obviously because you know the effects [of the sedative] will last several hours. I wasn't too bad. What they do, they wheel you onto, on your trolley into a little side ward and it's what you might call a recovery ward and you're allowed to stay there really for an hour or so or as long as you wish until you feel able to get up and walk really. So you're not rushed, you know, they look after you quite well.
Did you feel you had any side effects at all after the colonoscopy?
No, I didn't no, fortunately none whatsoever no, I was perfectly okay. I was able to go the loo, no problem the next day, and I had no discomfort. No it was, for me it was problem free.
He rested for an hour after the colonoscopy. Then the hospital staff arranged an ambulance to...
They took you into the waiting area?
Yes, for about an hour and then they give me a cup of tea and a sandwich, yes. Oh they was ever so nice, honestly.
Did you have any side effects of the colonoscopy?
No, no, no none whatsoever.
Oh that's good.
And how did you get home from the colonoscopy, after the colonoscopy how did you get home?
Do you mean from the hospital?
Oh the ambulance, the ambulance, ambulance took me home.
Oh good so there was no problem with that?
She was hungry and enjoyed the tea and biscuits after the colonoscopy. She had no side effects.
They put me on a bed for half an hour. And they made me a cup of tea and two biscuits. Best two biscuits I've ever eaten [laughs] because I hadn't had anything for 26, 27 hours. And then as I say he came and had a word with us, myself and my husband, and said he didn't think there was anything for me to worry about.
Did you have any side effects after the colonoscopy?
None at all?
No. They do say that you've got to be looked after obviously, I mean I was, I stayed in, sort of thing, but no, no.
You weren't too sore around the anus, the anal area?
No, no. Nothing.
So you've come back from having had the colonoscopy and you thought everything was fine.
He said he thought everything was fine, but I'd got to go back the following week, on the Thursday, for the results, to see the girls at the clinic again.
After his colonoscopy one man thought that there might have been a problem with his oxygen levels because an alarm sounded twice. He was told to take some deep breaths and soon felt better. Apart from that he made an uneventful recovery.
After his colonoscopy he thought that his oxygen levels were a bit low for a while. He had no...
None whatsoever. Oh, no. That's not strictly true. When I was lying on the bed for this hour that they'd told me to do, they put like a peg, the thing they put on the end of your finger, which checks on your blood oxygen level I think, and that went off a couple of times, and the nurse came straight over and said, 'Just take some deep breaths', which I did. And that was it, after two or three times they took the peg off, and she said, 'Are you feeling fine?', 'Yes', and then I was allowed to go home.
No real discomfort?
None whatsoever. I didn't drive for the following 24 hours but I had no side effects. I began to eat normally, thankfully, and no effect. I mean I thought that perhaps the next day I'd feel sore around the bottom, you know, but I didn't. I didn't feel any reaction at all.
How long did you feel you should take off work?
I took the following day off.
Some people had been quite hungry when they got home. One man wanted fish and chips and another described the bacon and eggs and ham sandwiches that his wife made for him. He saw a trace of blood in his stools, but had been told to expect this because he had had polyps removed. The doctor told him to inform the hospital if bleeding became continuous or heavy.
He noticed a trace of blood in his stools after his colonoscopy but this cleared up almost...
A very, very, very small amount. The, after I'd eaten, I had some egg and bacon and I sat down, played, listening to the radio and I felt hungry again, so my wife did me some boiled eggs and ham sandwiches. So I ate, I ate those and I was drinking tea all the time and you know water, tea all the time, I was drinking water and tea all the while and I felt fine. But when I did my first stool at the toilet there was just a small trace, which they told me there would be, you know. But they said if it was too much to get back in touch with them right way. But there was no problem, it cleared up almost immediately.
Many people appreciated the phone calls they received from the nurses after they got home. The nurses or other members of the team phoned to make sure people had recovered from the colonoscopy without serious side effects.
The nurses rang him two days after his colonoscopy to see if he was in 'good shape'. He...
No funnily enough I didn't at all and I was quite surprised when the nurses rang me two days after to ask me was I you know in good shape after having it. And no I don't remember any bad feelings or ill feelings or anything.
Did you have any bleeding at all?
No, no I didn't no funnily enough I, I was expecting to be very sore round my back passage but I wasn't.
You wanted to say something else?
Yes just one thing the nurses who test you and advise you that you need to go for a colonoscopy are very, very pleasant and they're very knowledgeable. They don't hide anything and they tell you exactly what is going to happen to you and I was so shocked when they rang me up after the colonoscopy to ask if I was okay, which is something I've never experienced before. And I think it's very nice that people are caring and do follow you up.
During a colonoscopy people may react to the sedative and have temporary breathing or heart problems. The removal of polyps or tissue samples can cause heavy bleeding - this happens in about one in every 150 colonoscopies. A rarer complication is perforation of the bowel wall by the colonoscope. The chance of this happening are about one in 1,500. If this happens the person may need an operation to mend the hole. Even more rarely the procedure can lead to death. Current evidence suggests that this may happen in around one out of every 10,000 procedures (statistics from ‘The Colonoscopy investigation’ leaflet from the NHS Cancer Screening Programmes February 2015).
None of the people we interviewed had one of these serious complications, but some said they felt a 'bit shaken' after the colonoscopy and had experienced side effects that they found distressing. Wind or cramping pains caused problems for some.
He had pain from wind for about 45 minutes after the colonoscopy. The pain got better gradually...
Afterwards I, I, the only sign of pain that I had afterwards, and which they told me about that I would possibly get some wind afterwards, bad wind, because when they put the camera in it can't be helped, there's so much wind when they're putting it through you, you know your system, you get air locks. And after they'd finished I must admit when I, I laid on the bed and I, it was just like a bad stomach wind pain which was what I had probably for about I don't know 45 minutes afterwards and as you go to the toilet to try and get rid of the, disperse this wind it gets easier and easier, the more wind you express obviously. But that was the only sign of; not pain, discomfort that I had you know but everything was fine.
She had 'terrible' cramp and lay on the sofa all night with a hot water bottle.
Yes really, it was terrible. It was really, really painful.
Oh yeah. And I'd still got them by the time I got home; I had to lay on the sofa all night with a hot water bottle. And that was really, really bad; I really have to say that was worse than any of what I'd gone through.
One man had had violent pains at the base of his stomach, which he assumed were due to wind, and then two days after the colonoscopy he had diarrhoea.
After the colonoscopy he had pain in the area of his colon and later diarrhoea.
I'm assuming it's to do with the colonoscopy because the nurse actually phoned me up on, the next day I think it was and asked me how I was feeling and I had some violent pains at the base of my stomach, or perhaps the colon area and it was, there was a lot of wind, there was a hell of a lot of wind and I assume, they had told me beforehand that, because they pump some air into you I think to open the bowel up and I can only assume that I hadn't passed it. About the Wednesday after, I mean I've not told the hospital this but I then [laughs] had the effects of the, it felt like the effects of the laxative because my, I was in and out of the toilet for two days and I'm wondering whether I still had some inside me but I don't know how. That was just my own thoughts but that as the only after effect I had.
So you had even more diarrhoea for a while afterwards.
Yeah afterwards, straight afterwards I was alright, I, I was back to normal basically for a couple of days and then I had these, I woke in the middle, early hours of the morning and I had really, my stomach was hurting and I had, there was a lot of wind, there was, and it hurt. And for a few days my back passage felt slightly sore, it was, it's obvious something had happened in that area but after a couple of days that all wore off, I never went to the doctors. If it had lasted a bit longer I might have done but I just assumed it was an after effect.
Another man remembered that soon after he got home he felt cold and he developed uncontrollable shaking. He had headaches, he had cramp in his stomach and he had a 'terrible sensation' that his bladder was very badly bruised.
He developed various alarming side effects after the colonoscopy.
Well after the colonoscopy I came home and we had a meal and I must be honest I had the desperate desire for fish and chips and we stopped in and collected some fish and chips, which we don't normally eat, had the meal and about two hours afterwards I began to develop this sense of extreme cold and uncontrollable shaking and with that uncontrollable shaking I had terrible headaches. My wife put me to bed with a hot water bottle, wrapped up in my pyjamas and a dressing gown in bed with the electric blanket on, and I fell asleep round about 9 o clock in the evening, which for me is extraordinarily early, as I normally go to bed about 1 to half past in the morning. I slept in until about 8.30 the next day, and I was up and around as normal but I had this terrible sensation that my bladder was very badly bruised, almost as if it had been kicked around a football field for a day and I had cramping problems in the stomach which I expected because of the air that had passed into the stomach through the procedure. The sensation of the bruising of the bladder and the cramping pains persisted for three to four days afterwards, before they stabilised and became normal again.
One woman had had very bad wind pain after the colonoscopy. The next day she went to the supermarket with her husband and suddenly felt faint. She recalled that she had been told to relax and not to sign any legal documents for 48 hours after the colonoscopy and thought she might have been foolish to go out.
She thought she was OK the morning after the colonoscopy, went shopping with her husband, and...
Was that the same day?
That was, no, that was next morning.
Oh so really.
Really and truly I do think you need to sit round in the house and just relax the day after.
Because I was in Tesco and I just said, 'I'm going to pass out', Tesco was just [laughs] going round and round. I felt like I'd had six Gin and tonics. It was silly, it was my fault, I shouldn't have done it.
Did you have any other side effects of the colonoscopy?
No, absolutely none. No. Just wind afterwards. You have to obviously get rid of the wind, just go to the toilet and just keep passing wind until the pain goes. Once the pethidine wears off that they give you as a pain killer, about two hours, and when I came home and I had just had something small to eat, just had some soup and bread, because you've gone two days without food, you don't want to pig out do you, and yeah the pain was pretty, like very very bad wind pain. And I just went up to the loo and sat there for an hour and read a book [laughs] until it had all gone. And I slept like a baby [laughs] through the night. It was great.
Most people took two or three days off work, a day to prepare for the colonoscopy, a day to have the procedure and a day to recover, but a bus driver felt that he needed a bit longer.
He took about a week off work because he felt he needed to be strong and alert for his job as a...
Well I had approximately a week actually. Possibly most people wouldn't possibly need that much but with my job as a bus driver I need to be alert and the diet is quite severe actually and the thing is that you need energy and I mean driving buses is not a manual job as such but you do need the strength of your food to keep you alert. And obviously I found it, myself, wise to take the week off because the diet itself is a three day thing, and also you need to recover at least a day after the procedure with sedation. So I think a week really for most people is probably the ideal.
Last reviewed May 2016.
Last updated May 2016.