Signs You Need to Schedule a Colonoscopy

A colonoscopy can save your life.

A doctor looks up colonoscopy information on a tablet.

Most people assume that a colonoscopy is one of those annoying extra responsibilities that pile on with age. Unfortunately, that mindset, along with a social taboo around talking about it, keeps people from getting this vital procedure.

But the fact is that a colonoscopy can save your life. A colonoscopy is used to find polyps that may indicate colon or rectal cancer. It’s recommended for people who are 45 years old and older. Colon cancer is much more treatable when it’s caught early.

If you have any of these seven signs, it may be wise to talk to your healthcare provider to see if you need a colonoscopy.

  1. Your stool is a different shape. The shape of your stool can indicate changes in your bowel health. If your bowel is ribbon-like or more narrow than normal, you may have a blockage somewhere along your large intestine.
  2. A family member gets colon cancer. Everyone is at risk of getting colon cancer. However, that risk more than doubles if you have a family history of colon cancer. If you have a relative who has colon problems, has severe colon polyps, or is diagnosed with colon cancer, you should be getting colonoscopies regularly and discussing it as part of your medical history with your doctor.
  3. You get diagnosed with iron-deficiency anemia. This is a sneaky sign of colon cancer that usually gets missed until the cancer has started spreading. Several conditions can cause iron-deficiency anemia, but colon cancer and intestinal bleeding are usually not the first causes to be ruled out. This is especially true if you’re a woman because doctors may assume the anemia is from heavy menstruation. If you have anemia and your doctor can’t explain why, ask for a colonoscopy and see if it could be a bowel problem.
  4. You don’t feel better after using the bathroom. After using the restroom, you should feel some relief. However, if you still feel full or like you need to go even after you’ve done so, you may need a colonoscopy to see what’s going on. Whether it’s a blocked bowel, an intestinal tumor, or an inflamed duodenum, you’ll want to get your condition checked by a doctor.
  5. You have certain medical conditions. Certain medical conditions can make you more likely to develop polyps in your colon, which can lead to colon cancer. People with conditions such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, or other gastrointestinal conditions are more at risk of developing colon cancer. If you have any of these medical conditions, you may need a colonoscopy ASAP, even if you’re not 50 years old yet.
  6. Your stool is bloody. This is a very serious sign. If there is blood when you poop, you should schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider immediately. This includes bleeding from the rectum as well as having blood in your stool, which may turn a red, dark red, or black color. Of course, this could be something less serious—such as hemorrhoids—but it could also be indicative of some very dangerous conditions. Get a colonoscopy to check out what’s happening. Better safe than sorry.
  7. Your bowel habits have changed. You know what’s normal for you. If you have a change in your bowel habits that lasts for longer than a few days, call your healthcare provider. This can include the shape or texture of your stool, the frequency that you go to the bathroom, the color, or any kind of pain. If there’s been a significant change in your bowel habits, schedule a colonoscopy to make sure it’s not a long-term problem.

Related: Guidelines for Colorectal Cancer Screening

Why you should never skip a colonoscopy

Even if you aren’t experiencing any of the above symptoms, you should still get a colonoscopy regularly. Here are some sobering facts that demonstrate why you should never skip a colonoscopy.

  • Colon cancer is the third most common type of cancer, and it’s also the second-leading cause of cancer deaths. With how common it is, you’d think more people would get colonoscopies and talk about this issue more. However, societal stigmas exist, and people don’t take colon cancer as seriously as they should.
  • Colon cancer is easily detected with a colonoscopy. The earlier you detect cancer, the easier it is to treat. If colon cancer is caught early, more than 90% of patients can be completely cured.
  • Colon cancer deaths are on the rise. In the last 30 years, colon cancer rates among young adults (younger than 50 years old) have more than doubled. If you suspect you may have colon cancer, talk to your healthcare provider about getting a colonoscopy early.

It’s not the most exciting procedure ever, but colonoscopies save lives. If you have any of the symptoms talked about in this article, be sure to talk to your healthcare provider. Even if you don’t have any risk factors or bowel problems, a regular colonoscopy is still a good idea.

Related: Preventive Care for Men and Women: Cancer Screenings

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