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Bowel Prep: What You Need To Know

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Updated March 20, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

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What Is Bowel Prep?
Cramping During Bowel Prep

Discomfort During Bowel Prep

Image: © Andrea Morini/Getty Images

What Is Bowel Prep?

Bowel preparation, commonly known as "bowel prep", is the process of removing all feces from the colon in order to have a medical or surgical procedure such as a colonoscopy.

It is important to clean the colon of all stool, food particles and anything else that may be present for several reasons. If you are having surgery on or near the colon, having stool present is a risk for infection and can get in the way of some procedures.

A full colon can make it difficult to operate upon adjacent tissues, such as the uterus. Think of the colon as a balloon taking up space. An empty colon, like a deflated balloon, takes up far less room and gives a surgeon far more room to work.

There are times when a bowel prep is done purely to prevent potential complications from surgery. For example, if your bowel was nicked during surgery, the infection risk would be dramatically decreased if the bowel was empty.

In the case of a colonoscopy, stool in the colon can prevent the surgeon from seeing the tissue that is being inspected and would make it very difficult to introduce the lighted scope into the rectum and colon. Imagine a plumber trying to clean a clogged pipe in your home and compare that to a pipe that is completely clean and clear, and you will understand why your doctor wants your colon as clean as possible.

For your own safety, and to have the best possible outcome from your procedure, it is imperative that you follow your bowel prep instructions to the letter.

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