bowel prep side effects and how to handle them


The most unpleasant thing about bowel prep for colonoscopy is the taste of the bowel prep agents. Bowel prep side effects are generally rare except for the intended effect-diarrhea. The table below provides a list of possible side effects, frequency of occurrence and what to do if they occur. This list is by no means exhaustive. Read the package label and speak to your provider about any bowel prep side effects.

Adverse EventFrequencyWhat To Do
  • Wear comfortable easy-to-remove clothes.

  • Stay close to the restroom.

  • Keep hydrated

  • Drink fluids.

Anal irritationCommon
  • Use soft toilet paper or baby wipes.

  • Apply Vaseline or Desitin® ointment or any baby diaper ointment to the skin around the anus.

Abdominal cramps ± distentionCommon
  • Usually self-limiting

  • Keep hydrated. Drink fluids.

  • If severe or persists, call your provider.

Nausea ± vomitingCommon
  • Wait 30 minutes before drinking more purgative.

  • Restart with small sips.

  • If problem persists, call your provider.

  • An antiemetic may be needed.

Flare of hemorrhoidsUncommon
  • Use hemorrhoidal creams.

  • Consider sitz bath after each stool.

  • Seizures

  • Dizziness

  • Arrhythmias

  • Electrolyte imbalance

  • Renal impairment

  • RareContact your provider immediately


    Who should not be prepped for colonoscopy

    • Patients with hypersensitivity to any of the ingredients of the the bowel cleansing agent.
    • Those with a gastrointestinal obstruction that will prevent passage of liquid into the intestine.
    • Patients with an ileus.
    • Unconscious patients. In some instances, bowel cleansing agent can be given through a nasogastric tube.
    • Inability to swallow. In certain cases, bowel cleansing agent can be given through a nasogastric tube.
    • Patients with toxic colitis or toxic megacolon.

    Don’t be a poor prep

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