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Colonoscopies Do Not Help Most Common Digestive Problems

Published date: January 31, 2013 | Modified date:
by Dr Stephen Wangen

Have you had a colonoscopy thinking that it would solve your digestive problem?

Are you considering having a colonoscopy in the hopes that it will be the answer to your G.I. troubles? Read on for a comprehensive look at what a colonoscopy can and cannot do for you.

What is the true value of a colonoscopy?

The use of the colonoscopy is widely misunderstood. Although it is an important tool, its ability to cure patients of common digestive problems such as chronic diarrhea, constipation, or abdominal pain is very limited.

If you have visited a gastroenterologist because you are suffering from constipation or diarrhea, then there is a very good chance that the gastroenterologist will have recommended that you have a colonoscopy.

It’s understandable then to think that the colonoscopy will finally be the solution to your problem, because it is the key recommendation that was made to you by your doctor.

But is the colonoscopy and diagnostic tool, or a treatment? And why should you care? It first must be emphasized that a colonoscopy is for the most part a viewing procedure, not a treatment. It is the process of looking at the inside of the colon.

The colonoscopy involves introducing a fiber optic scope into the rectum and up into the colon. This allows the doctor to see problems such as polyps, ulcers, tumors, and damaged tissue that is bleeding. These are all potentially serious issues worthy of diagnosis, but fortunately relatively few people  actually have any one of these problems, and even less so in IBS.

It is important to know that during a colonoscopy doctors cannot see the things that cause IBS. Doctors cannot see bacteria or other microorganisms, cannot evaluate your microbiome or enzymes levels, nor can they diagnose celiac disease or any other food reaction via a colonoscopy. And any one of these (and many other issues) could be the cause of your symptoms.

One of the most significant benefits of a colonoscopy is the identification and removal of polyps. Polyps rarely cause digestive problems, but removing them is important because polyps increase the risk for developing colon cancer. Removing the polyp dramatically reduces this risk. This is the impetus for a screening colonoscopies at the age of 50 and regular screenings after that.

However, for the average person suffering from constipation, diarrhea, or abdominal pain, the colonoscopy is unlikely to have any immediate or long term impact on their symptoms, regardless of age. It is highly unlikely that you will come away from a colonoscopy feeling any better than you did before you had the colonoscopy. Although the prep for the colonoscopy is designed to clean you out, which may temporarily (for a week or so) help you feel better, especially if you suffer from constipation.

This doesn’t mean that you should not have a colonoscopy. It is important to rule out ulcers, tumors, and the like, and to have polyps removed. But you should not get your hopes up that it will resolve your digestive symptoms. The most likely outcome is that you will come away with a clean bill of health, maybe having had a polyp or two removed, but you will still have the same symptoms you went in with.

That may be frustrating, but there is still hope. You have ruled out other problems and now you can focus on getting your IBS solved. That will require seeing an IBS specialist. This is the scenario described by patients every day at the IBS Treatment Center. We love working with these patients. So don’t give up. Just because the gastroenterologist couldn’t help you doesn’t mean that you are out of options. Know that they are experts in colonoscopies, not IBS, and we are here to help you address your IBS. Call us now and get your life back!