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Do You Need Anesthesia for a Colonoscopy?

Published date: June 28, 2023 | Modified date:
by Dr Stephen Wangen

I’ve got what I think is a fascinating little secret about getting a colonoscopy that you deserve to know but most people don’t know, and I’ll share my personal story with you about when I had my colonoscopy.

If you do a tiny bit of digging, you’ll discover that millions of people do NOT use anesthesia for their colonoscopy. The majority of colonoscopies in Europe, Japan, and China are performed without sedation.1

But the vast majority people in the U.S. do undergo sedation when they have a colonoscopy. However, studies have clearly shown that a colonoscopy can be safely and relatively comfortably done without sedation.

So why do we do it here in the U.S.? Are they tougher than we are?  Maybe. I don’t know. I’ve certainly heard a lot of people say that there is no way that they would turn down anesthesia for their colonoscopy.  And if you’re going to have a probe stuck up your ass (which is literally what is happening), then maybe you don’t want to remember that. (Come to think of it, maybe that’s where those UFO stories under hypnosis come from. Anyway, I digress.)

Or do doctors simply want to not have to deal with you and talk to you while they’re working?  It’s certainly a lot easier to get your work done when your clients are unconscious. I can see some advantages there.

But one thing is for sure, here in the U.S. the system is already set up for you to get anesthesia when you have a colonoscopy. Everything is in place, including the anesthesia, and medicine (lest you forget), is a business. And it’s a lot easier to run a business when everything is the same and you don’t have to customize it for everyone. Plus, someone is already getting paid to do it. So here you are going to be expected to be sedated.

no anesthesia for a colonoscopyWhen I went for my routine colonoscopy a couple of years ago, I didn’t know all of this. I learned it at the last second, when they were educating me about what to expect. In the middle of a sentence somewhere they mentioned that most people received anesthesia.  The word “most” caught my attention. That’s when I started asking questions.

And then I started to get a more complete story and realized that I had options. It was easy for me to decide not to get sedated because I never like taking any kind of drug or medication of any kind if I don’t have to. And if millions of other people are already doing it without sedation then I certainly can do it.

Plus, I really wanted to see what my insides looked like! And this was a unique opportunity to do that, which I highly recommend.  A super clean colon is very fascinating, and even more interesting is if they give you a peak into the small intestine, which is just amazing, and you might get to see the entry to your appendix. Super cool.

Anyway, as you know by now, I didn’t get sedated. I was fully alert, and I was able to watch a large monitor and see all of that stuff.

A few tips. When you have a colonoscopy, your colon will be gradually filled with little bursts of air so that your colon will expand, and the doc can safely advance the scope and look around and see everything. Otherwise, your colon is just a flat tube like a flat fire hose.

That air can be a bit uncomfortable, just like trapped gas. But it was never uncomfortable for more than a second or two. The trick is to fart it out. Thankfully my GI doc told me to do that, and that was the key. It’s a bit weird to think that you should be farting in the company of others, but if you don’t then you’ll probably wish you had. And these guys are doing colonoscopies this all day, so you’re not the first.  Plus, there is no smell because you’ve been all cleaned out. It’s just regular air.

And that was it! It was a very simple and very easy experience. And immediately after the procedure, while all the other people were lying around unconscious in the recovery room, I was able to get up and leave, but only after drawing mustaches on them.  Just kidding. And then I could even drive home (which you can’t do after anesthesia).  No side effects, no grogginess, no brain fog. And no alien stories. All good.

I share all of this because I want you to know that you have options, and I want you to be able to make an informed decision. It may not be for everyone, but lots of people do it this way. And I really hate it when people don’t tell me whole story so that I can decide for myself.

What will you do for your next colonoscopy?


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