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Julie Wilkinson, BSN, RN

Insider Tips: Surviving a Bowel Prep

By March 19, 2012

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Empty toilet paper roll

Image © Julie Wilkinson

Researchers can spend their time speculating on why people don't schedule their routine colonoscopies, but I have my own theory. According to the testimonials of friends and family, the bowel prep is the most dreaded aspect of this colon cancer screening exam.

Prior to a sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy or virtual colonoscopy (or any procedure that needs an unobstructed view of your inner colon), you will need to complete a bowel cleansing preparation, more commonly known as "the prep". It may consist of a combination of laxatives, suppositories and even an enema or two.

Once you are done, your bowels will be squeaky clean - allowing the doctor to see even the tiniest polyp or variation on your colon's lining.

However, getting through the prep can be uncomfortable, with at least one day spent on (or near) the toilet. Over the years I have collected a variety of insider tips, which may help make your experience a little more comfortable:

  • Stock up on flushable, moist wipes and barrier creams for your bottom (like petroleum jelly). I apologize in advance to those super-soft toilet paper companies, but even if you wipe your bottom with velvet - 20 or more times in a row - it will get sore. The bowel prep will make you move your bowels many, many times before they are totally empty.

  • Ask your doctor if you can add a flavored drink mix to your bowel prep (if you have to drink gallons of laxatives). Be sure that any drink mix you use does not include red, orange or purple dyes, as they can "stain" the lining of your colon temporarily.

  • Drink the prep through a straw, placing the straw in the back of your mouth. The majority of your taste buds sit at the front half of your tongue; sipping a solution without a straw will saturate your taste buds in laxative - whereas drinking through a straw may help you down the mix without tasting too much of it.

  • Call your doctor if you are having trouble completing the prep for any reason. He or she may be able to provide another option for cleansing your bowels, or may instruct you to reschedule the colonoscopy (or other bowel procedure) if your bowels are not cleaned out.

  • Get all your goodies close to the bathroom before you start the bowel prep. You will be spending a lot of time in the bathroom on the toilet; it is nice to have the things you need nearby. Grab your phone, clear liquids, moist wipes, and whatever else you may want nearby for the day and keep them close.
September 9, 2012 at 3:35 pm
(1) Paula says:

Thanks for the tips. I also am prepping as I type this (nice thought huh) and I will say my friends tips helped. I drink the prep with my nose held and added NO flavor packet. Then I take a quick shot of apple/mango juice, swish it in my mouth and then unpinch my nose. Worked great. The toilet wipes would of been a good idea for me to know ahead of time! I also recommend taking the prep out 1/2 hour before you drink it. My hands are so cold I can’t feel my finger tips. I guess the cold prep can give some people chills. So, thanks again and I just want to tell people it’s only as bad as you make it. Not great but it’s not horrible…yet!

November 5, 2013 at 9:22 am
(2) jan says:

I canít overstress the importance of lemons during the prep. Get a bag of lemons and cut them in quarters. Suck on the lemon quarter, drink the solution, suck on the lemon, drink the solution. You will not even taste or smell it. Also, schedule your exam in the afternoon. You will be able to drink 1/2 of the solution the night before and 1/2 in the morning. Very tolerable way to get through this!

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