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Colonoscopy in Children and Teens

What is a colonoscopy?

A colonoscopy allows doctors to look inside the colon. The colon is also called the large intestine or bowel. It is a part of the digestive system. This is the system that carries food and waste through the body.

Your child’s care team may order a colonoscopy if your child has:

  • Low number of red blood cells (anemia)
  • Diarrhea that does not go away
  • Blood in bowel movements
  • A change in bowel habits
  • Anemia
  • Pain in the belly or bottom

What to expect

During a colonoscopy, the doctor puts a thin, flexible tube into the rectum. The rectum is where bowel movements come out. The tube goes inside the colon. The tube is called a colonoscope. It has a light and tiny camera on the end to help the doctor see inside the colon.

The doctor looks for possible causes such as bleeding, swelling, holes in colon wall, growths, ulcers, or tumors. A colonoscopy will help the care team better understand and treat the problems your child has.

The colonoscopy itself takes about 30 minutes. Preparation for a colonoscopy begins the day before.

Digestive system

The colon is a major part of the digestive system.

Prepare for a colonoscopy

The colon needs to be empty so the doctor can see everything clearly.

Please follow the care team’s instructions exactly. The colonoscopy will be canceled if your child does not follow the care team’s directions.

How to prepare for a colonoscopy depends on your child’s age, how much they weigh, and other factors.

The care team may have your child eat a low-fiber diet a few days before the procedure. That includes not eating nuts, seeds, dried fruits, fresh fruits, and vegetables.

Your child may have a clear liquid diet a day or so before the colonoscopy.

A clear liquid diet may include:

  • Water
  • Clear juice
  • Clear broth
  • Gelatin (such as Jell-O)
  • Tea
  • Coffee
  • Hard candy
  • Ice pops

Do not give your child any food that is red in color. Do not give your child any solid foods, juice with pulp, or milk products.

Your child may also receive a cleansing liquid. It is called bowel prep. It involves drinking a lot of liquid.

In some cases, your child may get a laxative. A laxative is medicine to cause a bowel movement.

Your child may need an enema. An enema is an injection of liquid in the anus. The anus is the hole where bowel movements comes out.

During the colonoscopy

The colonoscopy happens in a hospital or clinic. You will be asked to arrive a few hours before the procedure begins.

This is what happens during a colonoscopy procedure:

  • Your child changes into a hospital gown.
  • The care team gives your child medicine to help them sleep through the procedure.
  • The care team positions your child on their side.
  • The doctor puts the colonoscopy tube into the rectum and inside the colon.
  • The doctor looks inside the colon on a video screen. The doctor can take pictures and record the test.
  • The doctor can also put small instruments through the tube. The doctor can use these instruments to take samples of tissue for testing. Sometimes the doctor may find polyps. A polyp is a small growth on the lining of the colon. Some polyps are harmless. Others are cancer or can become cancer. Doctors usually remove polyps when they find them.

After the colonoscopy

Your child’s doctor will talk with you. Your child will stay at the hospital or clinic for a short time to make sure they are OK before they go home.

Your child’s throat might feel numb for about an hour. Avoid letting your child eat or drink during this time. It might be dangerous because your child cannot feel the food or liquid.

You might notice a small amount of blood in a bowel movement or the toilet. If you see a lot of blood, call the care team.

Your child might have trouble with balance after a colonoscopy. They should not drive after the test if they are old enough to drive. The medicines they had for the procedure makes it dangerous to drive.

Call the call team if you have any questions.

Key Points

A colonoscopy allows your child’s doctor to look inside the colon.

  • A colonoscopy will help your child’s care team better understand and treat your child’s issues.
  • Preparation for a colonoscopy begins before the procedure.
  • Be sure to follow your care team’s instructions exactly.

Reviewed: September 2022