The prospect of inserting a camera into the gut to check for a range of conditions, including cancer, can make even the bravest souls vibrate.
Yet thousands of Britons have to face this painful procedure called a colonoscopy every day.
But now patients are offered a pain-free alternative that they can use to return to work immediately.
During a colonoscopy, a flexible tube with a small camera is inserted into the rear passage and moved to the intestine. The procedure is used to diagnose a range of conditions, from colon cancer to celiac disease and Crohn's disease.
According to the new method, doctors fill the colon with lukewarm water, which expands it in a more controlled manner and at a much softer speed
Previously, doctors pumped 40 liters of air into the large intestine – also known as the large intestine – to create room for the tube and to allow a better view of the area. But the air causes the colon to stretch out and become double, which can be bad.
Bags of air can get trapped in folds of tissue, exerting pressure on the abdomen. The procedure can also cause muscle cramps – and most people feel unstable for at least 24 hours afterwards.
According to the new method, doctors fill the colon with lukewarm water, which expands it in a more controlled manner and at a much softer speed. Unlike air, which is difficult to control and fills all parts of the colon, water only slightly expands the space, reducing the pressure.
The lukewarm water also relaxes the muscles and prevents spasms that patients often experience. The so-called underwater colonoscopy is currently used by NHS surgeons to detect and remove abnormal growths in the gut, also known as polyps.
According to a study by the renowned Mayo Clinic in the United States, the chance of these tumors being detected is 81 percent higher when using water instead of air. This is partly due to the fact that water cleanses the surface of the colon and ensures that the mushroom-like growths float, making them easier to find.
Professor Sauid Ishaq, gastroenterologist at Russells Hall Hospital in Dudley, West Midlands, has performed the water-assisted procedure in more than 1,000 NHS patients over the past five years.
"Many people feel anxious about having a colonoscopy and some patients experience severe pain," he says. & # 39; But with colonoscopy under water they usually do not need anesthesia and can jump out of bed almost immediately. & # 39;
Intestinal polyps will affect around one in four people at some point in their lives and are most common in people over 60 years of age.
Most polyps are harmless, but if they are not treated, some can become cancerous. Doctors believe that many colon cancers develop from a certain type of polyps called adenomas. It is therefore recommended to remove all growths to reduce the risk of developing the disease.
The night before an underwater colonoscopy, patients must take a laxative to remove their gut.
In the hospital they lie on their side on an examination bed, so that the colonoscope can be inserted.
The tube contains a camera so that the doctor can navigate the intestine and check for polyps, as well as a water jet, which is controlled using a foot pump.
Thousands of Britons have to face this painful procedure called a colonoscopy every day
During the procedure, which takes approximately 40 minutes, a constant stream of water is pumped into the colon. This allows the scope to be moved painlessly along its length and the doctor can thoroughly check for abnormal growths.
If a polyp is detected, a wire loop is guided through the range and out of the tip of the instrument.
The doctor floats the tool over the growth – like a lasso – and squeezes the lever of the scoop to tighten the loop around the polyp.
An electric current is passed through the wire to generate heat and break the growth. The remains are then returned by the scope and sucked out or caught with a net.
The use of water helps them to float up, making them easier to find and remove.
Dermot Kilmurray, 67, from Kingswinford in the West Midlands, suffered painful pain when he underwent a conventional colonoscopy with air four years ago after an abnormal result of bowel screening.
"It felt like my inside would explode," he said. "It was an intense pain that made me scream."
Since then he has had two colonoscopies under water and says: "They were absolutely trouble-free, pain-free and comfortable – I had no problems at all.
"With the first I had to rest for a few hours at home. But about 15 minutes after the second procedure, I felt as usual and immediately resumed my work. & # 39;
Dudley Group Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust is considered to be one of the few places in the UK that routinely offers treatment.
"It is an advanced treatment, available at only a few centers worldwide," says Prof. Ishaq. "But interest is growing fast."
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