Recovery After Colonoscopy: What to Expect

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Close-up of African American female patient in hospital gown smiling at doctor

A colonoscopy is a common procedure and comes with a fairly quick and easy recovery time. You may notice some side effects from the colonoscopy, but they usually pass on their own within a day or two. Depending on the result of your colonoscopy and whether abnormal tissue was discovered, your doctor may have some special instructions for you during your colonoscopy recovery period.

Immediately After a Colonoscopy

Colonoscopies are performed at a hospital or outpatient facility, where a nurse anesthetist or anesthesiologist will administer anesthesia or a sedative so you won’t feel pain during the procedure. It takes an hour or two to fully recover from the effects of the drug, so you will need to have someone drive you home. You shouldn’t go back to work that day.

You may notice some mild colonoscopy side effects in the first hour or so after the procedure, including cramping and bloating. This happens because the doctor introduces small amounts of air into your colon to open the passageway and allow a clear view of the colon wall. Walking around soon after your colonoscopy will help you pass gas and relieve the discomfort. 

Days After a Colonoscopy

It could take 2 to 3 days before you have a bowel movement after your colonoscopy because you completely emptied your colon and rectum ahead of the procedure. You may notice a little bit of blood in your first stool after your colonoscopy, especially if your doctor removed a polyp or took a biopsy of abnormal tissue. There’s no need to worry as long as it’s only a small amount and it doesn’t persist. If the bleeding becomes heavy or continues after many bowel movements, call your doctor. It could indicate a perforation, or tear in the colon wall. While this rarely happens—fewer than 10 patients in 10,000 will experience a perforation—it could require surgical repair.

If your colonoscopy result was negative, meaning your doctor found no abnormalities or polyps, you should be able to return to your regular diet the day after the procedure. However, if you had a biopsy or polyp removal (polypectomy), your doctor may give you specific diet instructions about what to eat after the colonoscopy. 

You should be able to resume your normal activities, such as driving and exercising, the day after the procedure. If you had polypectomy during the colonoscopy, ask your doctor before returning to your regular activities. Ask your doctor about other special instructions, such as avoiding aspirin or other drugs during your colonoscopy recovery. (Aspirin increases the risk of bleeding.)

Possible Complications

Colonoscopy complications are rare. However, it is possible that a tear occurs in the colon or rectum during the procedure. If your doctor notices the tear right away, he or she will repair it before you leave the facility. Large holes may involve surgery in the hospital. If perforation is discovered after your procedure (see warning signs below), call your doctor immediately. You may need surgery to repair the tear.

Warning signs of a colonoscopy complication include:

  • Persistent pain: Minor abdominal pain is expected after a colonoscopy as you recover, but severe or persistent pain should not be dismissed. Call your doctor and let him or her know your symptoms.

  • Bleeding: Some bleeding is also normal after a colonoscopy, especially if you had tissue or a polyp removed. But, if you experience heavy bleeding or bleeding that doesn’t go away after a couple of bowel movements, call your doctor. This could indicate a perforation of the colon wall, which is a rare but serious complication.

  • Fever: A fever is not expected after a colonoscopy, so if you experience a temperature higher than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit in the next few days, call your doctor. Fever is one possible sign of infection.

  • Nausea, weakness or shortness of breath: Call your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms, which can be due to an adverse reaction to the anesthetic.

Biopsy Results

If your doctor removed a polyp or abnormal tissue, the sample will be sent to a lab for analysis. Your doctor should receive results from the biopsy within a week. Follow up with your doctor to find out the next steps, if any are necessary. You may need another colonoscopy before the usual 10-year mark if the results showed precancerous tissue in your colon. 

Because it’s a safe procedure for most healthy people, recovery after a colonoscopy usually is no more problematic than some cramps and a gassy feeling, which will soon pass. Your doctor will discuss all colonoscopy side effects with you before the procedure, and be sure to ask any questions you may have.

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  1. Colonoscopy. American Cancer Society.
  2. Colonoscopy. American College of Surgeons.
  3. Colonoscopy. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
  4. Colonoscopy. Columbia University Irving Medical Center.
Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Feb 22
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