Headaches? Your Doctor Can Help You More Than You Think

After Your Child's Colonoscopy

A colonoscopy is a diagnostic procedure that allows a doctor to look inside the colon (large bowel). A gastroenterologist may recommend a colonoscopy if your child suffers from stomach pain, chronic diarrhea, or unexplained rectal bleeding. Although research shows that colonoscopy is at least as safe in children as in adults, it may help to know what to expect after your child has the procedure as well as the possible side effects that can occur.

What to Expect

Children are given a general anesthesia when they have a colonoscopy so that they don't feel anything. Unless there are complications, they can go home within a few hours after the procedure. Although your child should rest when arriving home and engage in only quiet activities for the remainder of the day, he or she should feel well enough to return to school or other normal activities the next day. Some children nap frequently afterward until the full effects of the anesthesia wear off.

Potential Side Effects

Like adults, sometimes children experience side effects after a colonoscopy – side effects that usually go away on their own. Common side effects to watch for include:

  • Sore throat – caused by the tracheal tube often used when administering general anesthesia

  • Belly pain and bloating – caused by gas from the air the doctor pumps into your child's GI (gastrointestinal) tract to inflate the colon

  • Nausea or vomiting – caused by anesthesia

  • Spots of blood in vomit – blood in vomit can come from biopsies the doctor performed but usually resolves within 24 hours

  • Bloody stool – biopsies the doctor takes can cause a small amount of blood in your child's stool – usually coming from the biopsy site

Contact your child's doctor if side effects worsen or persist, or if additional side effects occur:

  • Abdominal pain that persists or becomes severe. While some bloating and mild abdominal pain is common after the procedure, severe pain may be a symptom of a hole or tear (perforation) in the colon. Perforation – a serious complication of colonoscopy – doesn't always occur during the procedure. It can happen days later.

  • Heavy rectal bleeding. The presence of a large amount of blood in your child's stool that continues for days following the procedure may be a sign of a serious complication.

  • Excessive vomiting. Persistent vomiting can lead to dehydration. Young children, especially, lose fluid quickly. The symptom of vomiting may also be a sign of a bowel perforation.

  • Fever. Running a fever days after the colonoscopy can be a sign of infection or gastrointestinal perforation. Report a persistent fever above 100.4°F to your child's doctor.