Are you having back pain with any of the following?

  • Severe pain, weakness or tingling in your leg(s).
  • Difficulty stopping urination or loss of control of bladder or bowels.
  • Unexplained fever, nausea or vomiting.
  • A history of cancer or unexplained weight loss.

We understand that you are experiencing one or more of the health issues that might be impacting your back pain.

We recommend that you discuss these health issues with your doctor before proceeding with this program.

Once you are cleared by your doctor to do this program, we hope it helps you find relief from your back pain.



A colonoscopy is a procedure to examine the inside of your colon. Your colon is your large intestine. This is where your body stores food waste between bowel movements.

The procedure will include these steps:

  • We insert a long, flexible tube called a colonoscope into your rectum. The tube is about the thickness of a finger and contains surgical tools and a camera. 
  • We move the tube slowly along the colon. 
  • The camera sends images to a monitor so we can see anything abnormal such as a polyp. We may remove a polyp or take a small sample for testing. 

A colonoscopy takes about 30 minutes.

Why It Is Done

We use colonoscopy to screen for colon cancer. We can also remove pre-cancerous or cancerous growths during the procedure. This helps prevent or treat cancer. Screening typically begins at age 50. If you are at high risk for colorectal cancer, we may recommend starting earlier. 

Colonoscopy can also help us diagnose other conditions such as:

  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Crohn's disease
  • Iron deficiency anemia

Colonoscopy is usually an outpatient procedure. It can be done in the hospital or emergency room. In these cases, the procedure may be used to:

  • Investigate blood in the stool
  • Investigate rectal bleeding
  • Look for infection or inflammation of the intestines


There are other screening tests available before a colonoscopy. If one of these tests suggests an abnormality, we will schedule a colonoscopy. Colonoscopy is the only way to biopsy or treat an area inside your colon. Alternative screening tests include:

  • Fecal occult blood test (FOBT or FIT). This is a very quick test that requires no preparation. You collect a sample of stool at home and send it to us for testing.
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy. This is similar to a colonoscopy, but examines only the lower part of the colon. It requires less preparation. You will use an enema or oral laxative to clear your lower colon and rectum. We’ll also ask you to change your diet the day or two before the exam.
  • Barium enema. We insert a thin tube into your colon through your anus. We fill the tube with a contrast liquid (barium). Then we X-ray your abdomen. The barium highlights the colon and any abnormal areas. Preparation is the same as for a flexible sigmoidoscopy.

How You Prepare

Your colon needs to be completely empty before the procedure. This allows us to see inside and identify any abnormal areas. You will need to eat in a certain way for a few days and drink a strong laxative. Follow the preparation instructions exactly.

If you take regular medications, ask your doctor if you can continue taking them. It's fine to continue most medications before the procedure. However, you may need to stop or adjust certain medications temporarily, such as blood thinners and ibuprofen.

The Exam

Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing. Leave all valuables and jewelry at home. Please bring your Kaiser Permanente member ID card, a photo ID, and your procedure copay with you.

You will be given an IV sedative medication to help you feel comfortable. You won't be completely asleep, but you may not remember much about the procedure. It's very important that you do not drive after your colonoscopy as it takes at least 12 hours for the sedative to leave your system. If you do not have a driver, we will reschedule your procedure.

How It Is Performed

You will lie on your left side. First we insert the colonoscope into your rectum and inflate the colon with a puff of air. We move the colonoscope slowly along the colon, stopping at the small intestine. We retract the scope, examining the colon walls for abnormal tissue or bleeding. If we find abnormal tissue, we will either take a small sample for testing or remove it. This is painless, because there are no nerve endings inside the colon. Any bleeding is stopped surgically or with medication.

We will do our best to make you comfortable. When the scope is inserted, some people feel an urge to go to the bathroom, but that feeling usually passes quickly. Others describe pressure as the scope moves along the colon, similar to gas pains or bloating.

After the Exam

You can go home after an hour or so in the recovery area. The sedative doesn't wear off completely for at least 12 hours. That's why it is important to arrange a ride home and avoid driving until the following day. 

The air that inflated your colon may cause some discomfort. However, it usually passes as gas in the first few hours after the exam.

Rest and relax for a day or even two. You may continue to have cramps, feel bloated, and pass gas. This is all normal. Drink liquids and eat if you are hungry. Avoid caffeine as it can cause cramps.

You should feel mostly normal within a couple of days after a colonoscopy. However, it can take up to a week for your colon to recover completely and for your bowel movements to return to normal. You may notice a little bit of blood in your stool, but it should stop after a day or two.


Colonoscopy is a very safe procedure. However, there are some risks:

Bleeding. We will monitor you to ensure you are not bleeding before you go home. In rare cases, bleeding happens after leaving the hospital. If bleeding doesn’t stop, or becomes worse, surgery or another colonoscopy may be needed.

Damage to your colon. There is a small risk of a puncture or tear in the colon wall. Usually, this can be repaired right away. In rare cases, a tear may not be detected until later. It's important to let us know immediately if you have a fever of 101 degrees or higher, significant rectal bleeding, or persistent stomach pain.

Missed lesions. A colonoscopy is quite accurate, but it is not perfect. There is a small (5 percent) risk of polyps or cancers not being detected during a colonoscopy.

When to Call Us

Any pain or bleeding should stop in the first few days. Contact us if:

  • You have a fever of 101°F or higher.
  • You experience persistent, severe pain.
  • You have heavy rectal bleeding, with or without stool.
  • Your belly is tender, firm, or swollen.

Repeat Colonoscopy

Sometimes we may recommend that you have another colonoscopy. The reasons for this include:

  • Inadequate preparation. When the colon is not cleaned out properly, we can’t see the inside very well. We may not be able to move the colonoscope all the way to the small intestine.
  • Blockage or obstruction. This can prevent us from seeing the entire colon. Blockages can be caused by scar tissue or diverticular disease. Severe colitis or inflammation can also obstruct the colon.
  • Extensive tissue removal. If we removed many, or very large polyps, we may need to look at your colon again to confirm the procedure was successful.

Related Health Tools:

Prepare for Your Procedure

If you have an emergency medical condition, call 911 or go to the nearest hospital. An emergency medical condition is any of the following: (1) a medical condition that manifests itself by acute symptoms of sufficient severity (including severe pain) such that you could reasonably expect the absence of immediate medical attention to result in serious jeopardy to your health or body functions or organs; (2) active labor when there isn't enough time for safe transfer to a Plan hospital (or designated hospital) before delivery, or if transfer poses a threat to your (or your unborn child's) health and safety, or (3) a mental disorder that manifests itself by acute symptoms of sufficient severity such that either you are an immediate danger to yourself or others, or you are not immediately able to provide for, or use, food, shelter, or clothing, due to the mental disorder.

This information is not intended to diagnose health problems or to take the place of specific medical advice or care you receive from your physician or other health care professional. If you have persistent health problems, or if you have additional questions, please consult with your doctor. If you have questions or need more information about your medication, please speak to your pharmacist. Kaiser Permanente does not endorse the medications or products mentioned. Any trade names listed are for easy identification only.