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By Tamara Barber, Ally Author

Many people want to know how to plan for the day of a colonoscopy, including how long the colonoscopy will take. This timeline is important not only for patients but also for caregivers who come with them to a colonoscopy appointment.

A colonoscopy procedure typically takes 30-60 minutes, depending on whether the doctor needs to remove polyps or take biopsies. However, patients and caregivers should plan to spend 2-3 hours total at the hospital or endoscopy center to account for the time needed for preparation and recovery. 

During colonoscopy preparation and recovery, caregivers either wait in a waiting room or give their number to the office staff to receive a call when it is time to pick up the patient. Patients will need the remainder of the day to rest and recover at home; those who work should plan to take the day off.

What happens during a colonoscopy? 

About 30-60 minutes prior to the colonoscopy, the patient changes into a gown, and a nurse will get an IV started. The doctor or a nurse will go over what will happen during the procedure and any risks associated with it. 

Then, the patient is usually administered light sedation via pill or IV. Due to the sedation, it is unlikely the patient will remember the colonoscopy itself. 

Once the procedure is over, the patient will need about 30-60 minutes to recover from the sedation before getting dressed and leaving the building. As a last step before leaving, the doctor will review what he or she found during the colonoscopy and discuss next steps, if there are any.

If the doctor removed polyps or took tissue samples (biopsies), those will be sent to a lab to determine if they are benign, precancerous, or cancerous. In cases where a polyp or growth is too big to be removed during a colonoscopy, the doctor will recommend seeing a specialist or surgeon who can do so. In these cases, the doctor may advise following a low residue diet for a period of time.

Because the residual effects of sedation can last for up to a day, patients cannot drive themselves home and should not make any important decisions until the effects have completely worn off. During the rest of the day following a colonoscopy, the patient may feel bloated and pass gas while clearing air from the colon.

How long does a colonoscopy take?

  • 30-60 minutes to prepare the patient directly prior to the procedure

  • 30-60 minutes for the colonoscopy itself

  • 30-60 minutes to recover at the hospital or endoscopy center directly following the procedure

  • The remainder of the day to rest and recover at home

For more FAQs about screening and colonoscopies, please click here

About the Ally Author: As a two-time survivor of young-onset stage III colon cancer, Tamara Barber is on a mission to educate others on the risk factors and symptoms that require screening. She lives outside Boston, Massachusetts with her husband, three kids, and a dog.

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