Colonoscopy Preparation Tips

Colorectal cancer is a cancer of the colon or rectum. It can be detected through regular colonoscopy or through symptoms such as changes in stool consistency, irregular bowel movements, and abdominal pain.

Detecting cancer early allows for the best set of treatment options.  Bring physical symptoms to your doctor’s attention as soon as possible. Because cancer can grow quickly, getting regular colonoscopies is the best choice for proactive detection, which is crucial in beginning early treatment, if necessary.

Colon cancer is the third leading cause of death in men and women in the United States.  In 2018, the American Cancer Society updated screening guidelines for persons at average risk, lowering the age from 50 to 45 to begin colon cancer screening.

If patients have any signs or symptoms of bleeding, pain, or changes in bowel habits, scheduling an appointment with a gastroenterologist is critical.

Preparing for your colonoscopy

People often say, “The preparation for a colonoscopy is worse than the procedure.” While this is partly true, the preparation can be less of a task if the patient follows a few important tips and tricks. Getting a colonoscopy is easy for the patient and relatively quick. Once it’s over, your life goes back to normal, and you can resume regular activities after your anesthesia has worn off.

The day before the colonoscopy procedure, patients are required to fast.  Only clear or light-colored liquids are allowed.  Examples include beverages such as herbal teas, broth, light-colored ice pop treats, light-colored JELL-O®, apple juice, sparkling water, ginger ale, Pedialyte or light-colored Gatorade, and plenty of water. Patients should focus on staying well hydrated, which will help decrease hunger and is necessary before the laxative depletes the body of fluids and nutrients. No red, blue, purple, or dark-colored liquids are allowed.

The night before your procedure

Patients are required to drink a large volume of a prescription laxative. While the liquid does not necessarily taste bad, it can be difficult to consume in the quantity required. This is a critical step in the preparation for your colonoscopy as it serves to clean the bowels.  If a patient’s bowls are not empty at the time of the procedure, it will have to be rescheduled.

The prescription liquid, which is typically flavored to make it more tolerable, is best consumed cold. Because it creates a gentle laxative effect, it is recommended that patients plan to stay home or in a comfortable location with access to a bathroom.

The ease of this process and the success of the colonoscopy both depend on the patient’s preparation. A few tips can help make the preparation for colonoscopy easier.

Seven tips to prepare for your colonoscopy

Tip #1 – Eat Light

For three days before the procedure, it’s best to eat smaller, lighter meals. Avoid fried or heavy foods, tiny seeds, or red dyes which are often found in processed foods, sugary or “fruit-like” drinks, and candy. Good light-food options include soups, smoothies, flaky fish, steamed vegetables, and protein shakes. Eating lighter a few days before the fast and laxative prep will make it easier to go without food and allow the laxative to purge the bowels more gently.

Tip #2 – Stay Hydrated

Drinking plenty of liquid will help patients stay satiated and hydrate the body and brain. Drinking at least 8 cups of water is essential, and combining herbal teas, broths, and water is an ideal choice. During this time, eliminating heavy workout routines and physical activity is best. Yoga or walking is fine; make sure to replenish with fluids.

Tip #3 – Fasting 

The day before the colonoscopy, patients are asked to fast and only consume clear liquids. It is essential to stay hydrated, as fasting can cause a depletion of fluids and nutrients. Drinking clear beverages with electrolytes is a great option. Consider electrolyte-enhanced water (Smart Water) or sports drinks that are light in color (lemon-lime flavored). Clear broth or bone broth is also helpful in keeping nutrients in the body without solid food intake. These can be prepared with chicken broth powder, bouillon, or bought premade. Any broth is acceptable as long as it contains no noodles or solids. Italian water ice or light-colored popsicles are great options if you need something more. Just make sure they do not have any chunks, pureed fruit, or red dyes.

Tip #4  – Avoid Food-Related Content

Relax and keep your mind off eating. Do some reading, mediation, or light stretching. Avoid grocery stores, cooking shows, and your pantry.  Most television commercials are about food, which may make you feel deprived. It is best not to watch commercials or programs about cooking or enjoying food. This may be the right time to disconnect. While streaming services offer endless programming options without commercials, this may be the best time to get connected with yourself. This is an ideal opportunity to meditate, read, or journal. Putting yourself in the right mindset can help your digestive health and condition your outlook for the following day’s procedure. As routine a procedure as it may be, we are only human, and we may overthink the exam. Going into it with a clear mindset is a plus.

Tip #5 – Stock the Bathroom

Prepare your bathroom with baby wipes, soft toilet paper, reading material, hemorrhoid cream, Vaseline, or Aquaphor to help reduce any discomfort that arises. A cold wash cloth, ice or warm Epsom salt baths can help alleviate sensitivity.

Tip #6 -Prepare for a Good Night’s Sleep

The time that your cleanse is recommended to begin is based on the time of your appointment. If your colonoscopy is scheduled early in the morning, you will be fasting early the day prior.  If your procedure is later in the day, it may be better to start your prescription laxative drink before the recommended time to prevent disruption to your sleep.  Your stool must run completely clear before you are finished with the preparation. Some people may continue to feel an urgency after the bowels are cleaned out. This sensation is temporary and should not last long.

On the day of the procedure, a driver must take you to and from your appointment – this is essential. Before the colonoscopy, you may still be having abdominal sensations due to the cleanse. After the procedure, you may be groggy and not ready to drive.

Tip #7  – After the Procedure

After the colonoscopy, patients may feel groggy and drowsy for the rest of the day. Many people enjoy resting, watching television, and taking a nap after their colonoscopy. Be mindful that you’ve been feeding your system only liquids and soft foods. It is essential not to overdo the food intake immediately. To avoid overwhelming or irritating your system, eating lighter, smaller meals will be beneficial, and avoiding greasy, spicy, heavy foods is best.

Your Colonoscopy Results

The test results usually take about a week if the patient had a polyp or polyps removed during the procedure. Someone from your doctor’s office or outpatient facility will notify you of the next steps to get your results. If you have no polyps or other issues, you can wait another ten years before your next colonoscopy unless otherwise indicated by your physician. However, if you show any new signs or symptoms before then, you should make an appointment with your gastroenterologistColonoscopies save lives.

Schedule an Appointment with a Colorectal Expert Today

No matter your age, if you are experiencing abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, or changes in bowel habits, you must see a gastroenterologist who will determine whether you are experiencing a gastrointestinal disorder or, perhaps, colon cancer symptoms.

If you are struggling to manage your gastrointestinal symptoms, a gastroenterologist can help you find relief. Schedule an appointment with Dr. Martin Maldonado at our Florida Medical Clinic location in North Tampa.


Martin Maldonado

About Martin Maldonado, MD, FACG

Dr. Martin Maldonado, a board-certified gastroenterologist, specializes in Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), diseases of the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, colorectal cancer screening, Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), Weight Loss and nutrition.

Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to substitute professional medical advice. Every patient is different, so talk with your doctor to learn what treatment options are best for you.



About this author.

Recommended Articles


How Do You Know if You Have Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

Stephanie Delvaux, APRN

Your gastrointestinal system has many components, each of which plays a specific role in processing your food and drink intake, which enables you to receive the nutrition your body needs and safely eliminate waste. The way this system works every day is remarkable, but it doesn’t always function without a hitch. Irritable bowel syndrome, typically […]


What is Colorectal Cancer and Can I Prevent It?

Cassandra A. Gandle, MD

Colorectal cancer develops when cells in the colon, rectum, or both begin to multiply uncontrollably. If left untreated, colorectal cancer may spread to other parts of the body. Colorectal cancer is the fourth-most commonly diagnosed and second-most deadly form of cancer in the United States. The average age of diagnosis for colorectal cancer is 66, […]


Foods to Avoid with IBS: A Guide for a Healthy IBS Diet

Cassandra A. Gandle, MD

IBS stands for irritable bowel syndrome. IBS is a chronic functional disorder of the gastrointestinal system characterized by stomach pain and changes in bowel habits. About 10-15% of adults experience IBS symptoms. The exact cause of IBS remains unknown, however the condition is often treatable with exercise and dietary changes. To receive an IBS diagnosis, […]
Skip to content