Fast Facts About Virtual Colonoscopy

  • Doctor-With-Patient-As-They-Prepare-For-A-CAT-scan
    1. It’s an Imaging Test
    A virtual colonoscopy is a CT or MRI scan of the colon and rectum. A virtual colonoscopy can find colorectal cancer in its earliest, most curable stage. It can also help detect other diseases of the colon and rectum. It's not for everybody, but virtual colonoscopy can be a valuable option for those who are not ideal candidates for traditional colonoscopy.

  • The-Photo-Of-Large-Intestine-Is-On-The-Woman's-Body
    2. It Looks for Signs of Colon Cancer
    Your primary care doctor or a gastroenterologist may recommend a virtual colonoscopy to look for colon cancer and colon polyps. Colon polyps are growths that can become cancerous. A virtual colonoscopy can also help your doctor find the reason for unexplained symptoms. These include belly pain, bloody stools, and changes in bowel movements. These problems can be caused by diverticulitis, intestinal ulcer, ulcerative colitis, and other diseases.

  • Doctor-gastroenterologist-with-probe-to-perform-gastroscopy-and-colonoscopy
    3. It’s Less Invasive Than a Traditional Colonoscopy
    A virtual colonoscopy uses a CT or MRI scanner to take pictures of your colon. A traditional colonoscopy requires passing a tube (colonoscope) through the rectum to look at your colon. Doctors also use a traditional colonoscopy to perform procedures. These include taking a biopsy, removing polyps, and bleeding control. These procedures cannot be done with a virtual colonoscopy. Talk to your doctor about which type of colonoscopy is best for you.

  • Smiling-medical-team-standing-in-hall
    4. Radiologists Perform Virtual Colonoscopies
    A radiologist or diagnostic radiologist will lead your radiology team. The team will perform your test in a hospital or outpatient radiology clinic. Radiologists use radiation and other imaging methods to detect and treat disease. Diagnostic radiologists focus on performing and reading imaging tests. This includes CT and MRI used in virtual colonoscopy. Let HealthGrades help you find a specialist in your area.

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    5. You Need to Cleanse Your Colon
    Your doctor will give you specific instructions to get ready for your virtual colonoscopy. You will need to cleanse your colon. This may include using enemas and laxatives and not eating solid foods for a day before the test. You should also drink plenty of clear fluids to be well hydrated. Take or stop your medications exactly as directed. Be sure to tell your doctor about your allergies, medications, and full medical history.

  • Patient-Undergoing-For-A-Computerized-Axial
    6. It’s Like an X-Ray Test
    You will dress in a patient gown and lie on a table connected to the scanning machine. Your care team will insert a small flexible tube about two inches into the rectum. Air will be pumped gently into the colon to expand it and make clear images. The table will move you through a tunnel-like CT or MRI machine as it takes painless pictures. You may be placed in various positions during the test. You will also need to hold your breath briefly to avoid blurry images.

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    7. You May Have Mild Cramping
    You may feel brief cramping, pressure, or fullness in your belly when air is pumped into the colon. Take a few long, deep breaths to relax. Tell your care team if any discomfort does not pass quickly. You may pass gas and have mild cramping after the test. You should not be in pain. Call your doctor if you have discomfort that does not go away quickly or if you are in pain, because it may be a sign of a complication.

  • Senior-woman-at-doctor's-office-talking-to-female-doctor
    8. It Has a Low Risk of Complications
    Problems after a virtual colonoscopy are not common but can occur, including nausea, vomiting, dehydration, and rectal discomfort from having air pumped into your colon. Damage or tearing of the colon is rare. There is a small chance of cancer from radiation exposure during a CT scan. There is no ionizing radiation exposure during MRI virtual colonoscopy.

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    9. A Virtual Colonoscopy Is Quick
    You will likely go home and return to your normal diet and activities right after a virtual colonoscopy. You may need to drink extra fluids for 24 hours to ensure good hydration. Your doctor will discuss the test results with you. You may need another procedure if your virtual colonoscopy finds colon polyps or other problems. This can include a traditional colonoscopy to remove polyps.

Fast Facts About Virtual Colonoscopy

About The Author

  1. CT Colonography. American College of Radiology.
  2. What are the key statistics about colorectal cancer? American Cancer Society.
  3. Virtual Colonoscopy. National Institutes of Health. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
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Last Review Date: 2021 Jul 26
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