In this section
A colonoscopy (coal-on-osk-o-pee) is a procedure during which a gastroenterologist (doctor specialising in the digestive system) looks at the inside of the large bowel (colon). This is done with a colonoscope – a long, flexible tube that has a light and a camera on the
end. A gastroscopy is often done at the same time as a colonoscopy. For more information, see our fact sheet
Endoscopy – gastroscopy and capsule endoscopy.
The colonoscope is inserted into the anus (bottom) and then slowly pushed in along the large bowel. These areas are examined and biopsies (small samples) of bowel tissue may be taken.
The main reasons children need a colonoscopy are to find a cause for abdominal (stomach) pain, diarrhoea or bleeding from the bowel. If a polyp (an overgrowth of tissue, shaped a bit like a mushroom) is found, a polypectomy (removal) may be done at the same time as the colonoscopy.
This involves the removal of the polyp from the inside wall of the bowel, using special tools at the end of the colonoscope.
Special preparation is necessary before a colonoscopy, as your child's bowel needs to be completely empty in order for the procedure to be successful. This can usually be done at home.
To ensure your child's bowel is completely empty, follow these directions:
Clear fluids are drinks you can easily see through, including:
Clear fluids do not include fresh fruit juice and milk.
Contact the hospital if your child is unwell before the colonoscopy (e.g. if they have an infection or a bad cold), or if you have any questions about preparing for the procedure.
Most children need to have a special drink (called a bowel washout or bowel prep) the evening before, and sometimes the morning of, a colonoscopy. The bowel washout empties the bowel, helping the doctor to see through the colonoscope more clearly.
Your child can continue to have clear drinks only until admission time.
Children can usually go home on the same day as the colonoscopy.
Your child may have one or more of the following side effects after the colonoscopy. These usually get better without any special treatment.
Call the hospital if your child has:
What are the risks of the colonoscopy procedure?
A colonoscopy is a very safe procedure; however, your child's doctors (gastroenterologist and anaesthetist) will discuss any possible unexpected outcomes with you when taking consent for the procedures. Make sure you ask any questions you have when you are speaking to the doctors and nurses
before the colonoscopy.
Do all children need a general anaesthetic?
Although not painful, a colonoscopy is very uncomfortable and children would not tolerate it if they were fully awake. For this reason, a light general anaesthetic is used to keep your child still, comfortable and pain-free during the procedure.
Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital Gastroenterology, Day Surgery and Anaesthesia and Pain Management departments. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.
Reviewed May 2018.
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