Colonoscopy Prep: 9 Tips to Make It Easier

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Marijke Vroomen Durning, RN on May 9, 2021
  • woman with tummy ache and toilet paper
    So, you’re going to have a colonoscopy.
    Have you heard horror stories about colonoscopy preps or colonoscopy prep diets? This preparation is required because it is important that your bowels be completely empty for a successful examination. This allows your gastroenterologist to clearly see the bowel wall. And the only way to clean out your bowel is by going through the prep process. If you have any medical problems, like diabetes, speak with your doctor about how you can safely prepare for a colonoscopy. In the meantime, here are some tips about prepping for a colonoscopy and how to make the whole process a little easier.
  • bowl of porridge, creamed cereal on wooden table
    1. Colonoscopy prep begins with your diet.
    Prepping for a colonoscopy starts a few days before your procedure. Unless your doctor instructs otherwise, remove high-fiber foods from your diet a few days before your appointment. These include whole grains, nuts, raw fruits and vegetables, seeds, and dried fruits. For example, if you usually have a bowl of steel-cut oats with raisins or raw apples for breakfast, try swapping in a low-fiber cereal like cream of wheat or toasted white bread. Continue with this diet until the day before your colonoscopy.
  • chicken broth
    2. The day before, focus on a clear liquid diet.
    The day before your test, you should switch to a clear liquid diet. Clear liquids include liquids you can see through, such as broths and water, and those that don’t leave behind any residue. You may be concerned about feeling hungry while on a clear liquid diet, but you can consume as much of the permitted fluids as you want until you must fast. Other examples include black coffee or tea; light or clear non-citrus fruit juices without pulp; chicken, beef or vegetable broth; light-colored or clear rehydration fluids like sports drinks; light-colored Jell-O; or even popsicles.
  • glasses of lime, lemon and orange jello with whipped cream on top
    3. Avoid dark-colored or red liquids, or any thickeners.
    Dark-color, purple or red liquids are forbidden in a clear fluid diet, even for Jell-O or a sports drink. Some of the dyes used to add red or purple coloring to foods or liquids can stain the bowel walls. When your gastroenterologist looks through the scope at your bowel, this staining could look like blood. Thicker liquids, such as milk and creamer, juice with pulp, and other substances that are not clear fluids can leave behind residue on the bowel walls. This could hide problems like a polyp from the scope’s camera.
  • Stack of five toilet paper rolls
    4. Prepare for the prep.
    There are several types of colonoscopy prep drinks, and your doctor will tell you which one you should use. Before starting the prep, make sure you have everything you need on hand. This includes purchasing soft toilet tissue and perhaps some wipes for gently cleaning after you move your bowels. Some people find it helpful to use vitamin A & D ointment or even diaper rash cream to protect the skin around the anus. Also, wear loose, easily removed clothing as the urge to go to the bathroom may come on very strongly, very quickly.
  • pitcher of water being poured into glass
    5. Ask your doctor about different types of laxative preps.
    Some preps require you to drink large amounts of fluid. For example, if your doctor prescribes colonoscopy prep with MiraLAX or Gavilyte (polyethylene glycol), you would need to drink up to 3 to 4 liters (up to 1 gallon) of the product the two days before your procedure. If you have difficulty drinking a large amount of fluid, speak with your doctor to see if you can take an alternative laxative. There are some that don’t require so much fluid, such as Prepopik. Don’t make the switch yourself, as there may be a good reason why your gastroenterologist prescribed your specific product.
  • lime halves submerged in water
    6. Try ways to make the laxatives more palatable.
    Some people have difficulty drinking the prescribed large amounts of laxative because of the taste. When preparing the drink, shake it well to dissolve all the crystals. Keep the prep in your fridge. The colder it is, the easier it is to tolerate. Try drinking the prep as fast as you can rather than sip it. You could add flavor with ginger or lime, for example, or even (non-red or purple) Kool-Aid or Crystal Light. Using a straw may be helpful and if you want, after each drink, you can reward yourself with a hard (clear) candy.
  • smiling senior man drinking glass of water indoors
    7. Keep up your fluid intake.
    Given the amount of liquid you must mix in most colonoscopy preps, you may think you’re drinking more than enough fluids. But keep in mind you are eliminating a lot of fluid too as your bowel movements get softer and become liquid. So, unless your doctor says otherwise, keep drinking your clear fluids throughout the day until you are not allowed to consume anything prior to the examination.
  • glass of ice cold ginger ale with ginger root and lime display
    8. Finish the prep, even if you feel empty.
    After a day or two of moving your bowels, it may feel like there’s nothing left for you to eliminate. Don’t give in to the temptation of stopping the prep. If you start to feel nauseated or unwell, try sipping ginger ale or some other clear fluid between prep doses to give your system a break. When you’ve finished the prep, continue to stay close to the bathroom as you may still get sudden urges or cramping.
  • female patient looking at tablet with doctor
    9. Tell your doctor if you have special considerations.
    The basics behind colonoscopy preps are for the average adult; however, certain illnesses or conditions may force some adjustments to the process. If you have a chronic illness, discuss this with your gastroenterologist. Ask how the prep and process may affect you with some of these questions: Should I keep taking my medications? Do I take my medications on the day of the test? If you have limited mobility, you may also need to ask someone to stay with you while you do the prep, to help you get to the bathroom when you need.
Colonoscopy Prep: 9 Tips to Make It Easier

About The Author

Marijke Vroomen Durning, RN, has been writing health information for the past 20 years. She has extensive experience writing about health issues like sepsis, cancer, mental health issues, and women’s health. She is also author of the book Just the Right Dose: Your Smart Guide to Prescription Medications and How to Take Them Safely.
  1. Colonoscopy. Mayo Clinic.
  2. Preparing for a colonoscopy. Harvard Health Publishing.
  3. Other options for the dreaded colonoscopy “prep”. Your Health Matters; Sunnybrook Hospital.
  4. Low-fiber diet for colonoscopy preparation. Kaiser Permanente.
  5. Johnson DA, Barkun AN, Cohen LB, Dominitz JA, Kaltenbach T, Martel M, et al. Optimizing Adequacy of Bowel Cleansing for Colonoscopy: Recommendations From the US Multi-Society Task Force on Colorectal Cancer. 2014;147(4)903-924
  6. Colonoscopy Prep Instructions: MiraLAX. Cleveland Clinic.
  7. Bowel preparation before colonoscopy in adults.

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Last Review Date: 2021 May 9
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