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How Should You Prepare Your Child For A Colonoscopy?

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If your child is dealing with chronic gastrointestinal distress, from constipation to excess gas to loose stools, his or her pediatrician may have recommended a diagnostic colonoscopy to attempt to narrow down the list of possible diagnoses and rule out any serious ailments. This procedure allows your child's doctor to use a thin, flexible camera to examine the lower part of his or her colon for any abnormalities and can provide a number of benefits. However, preparing a child for what many adults find to be an intimidating or potentially uncomfortable procedure can be a challenge. What will you need to do before the scheduled colonoscopy to ensure your child is well-prepared for what awaits? Read on to learn more about colonoscopy preparation for young children and teens.

Are colonoscopies performed differently for children than adults?

The colonoscopy procedure itself is performed in a similar manner for all ages (albeit with a smaller scope and camera for younger and smaller patients). However, the sedation and preparation process can vary widely based on the age and general health of the individual being examined. In general, young children will need to be thoroughly sedated or even put under general anesthesia for the duration of the procedure, while adults may be able to get by with just an anti-anxiety pill or an IV that puts them into "twilight sleep" rather than full unconsciousness. However, the practice of sedating children for colonoscopies can vary widely from doctor to doctor, so you'll want to do a bit of research on your own so that you can advocate for the best outcome for your child -- whether this means going under general anesthesia or instead simply taking a "memory loss" drug that can erase your child's memory of the procedure.

What should you do to ensure your child is prepared for his or her colonoscopy? 

Preparing your child for a colonoscopy has both physical and mental components. Since it's likely this colonoscopy has been recommended because of a digestive issue your child is experiencing, you'll want to ensure the doctor has a clear shot of the sides of your child's lower intestine to spot any potential problems. This can mean helping your child bulk up on fiber-heavy foods for a few days before the procedure; as these fibrous foods move their way through your child's digestive system, they'll essentially act as mops or brooms, scraping excess feces from the sides of the intestines and depositing it in the colon. Your child may also be put on a fairly restrictive diet for a few days before the procedure to lower the odds that greasy food or other waste will block the camera's view of a crucial part of your child's intestine. Your child's physician may give you a laxative to provide a day or so before the procedure, which should be a good final step toward getting your child's colon in camera-ready shape.

You'll also want to help your child emotionally prepare for this procedure. Colonoscopies can seem scary and invasive, particularly for a child dealing with an as-yet-undiagnosed digestive issue, and making sure your child knows this procedure is designed to help doctors come to a diagnosis and begin more effective treatment may be helpful. In an age-appropriate way, let your child know that the doctor plans to put him or her to sleep (or provide a memory-erasing drug) to make this procedure as pain-free and pleasant as it can be, and that it's important to cooperate with the doctor's instructions so that he or she can heal quickly and get back to normal life as soon as possible.

Before your child's colonoscopy, you may want to check out some children's books that are targeted toward children coping with illness or a medical procedure, as these books are often written or illustrated in a way that can connect with your child. For children who are more play-oriented, acting out some minor medical scenarios on a doll or stuffed animal (without going into graphic details) can let your child play the role of doctor or concerned parent while painting the medical field in a positive and reassuring light.