Before a colonoscopy, it is important to empty the bowels so the doctor can clearly and thoroughly examine the colon. Bowel preparation pills are laxatives that people take to empty the bowels to prepare for a colonoscopy.
People can take laxative pills to empty the bowels, or there are also liquid preparations people can take.
People will take bowel preparation pills orally with specific amounts of fluid, usually splitting the dosage over the evening before and the morning of the colonoscopy.
This article looks at how to take bowel preparation pills before a colonoscopy. It also outlines what a person can expect after taking them and the financial help available.
Currently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved two
Both SUTAB and OsmoPrep are split-dose medications, meaning people will take part of the total dosage the evening before the colonoscopy and the rest on the morning of the procedure.
Before taking SUTAB or OsmoPrep, people should avoid taking any other laxatives or oral medications within 1 hour of starting the laxatives.
People will take 24 tablets in total, with 12 tablets equaling one dose. The instructions for taking SUTAB include the following:
The evening before
- Open one bottle containing 12 tablets.
- Fill the container provided with 16 ounces (oz) water.
- Take each tablet with a sip of water, and consume the rest of the water over 15–20 minutes.
- One hour after taking the last tablet, drink another 16 oz of water over 30 minutes.
- Approximately 30 minutes after finishing the previous 16 oz of water, drink another 16 oz of water over 30 minutes.
The morning of the colonoscopy
A person should take all the tablets and the required amount of water at least 2 hours before the procedure. On the morning of the procedure, a person should:
- Open the other bottle containing 12 tablets.
- Fill the provided container with 16 oz water.
- Swallow each tablet with a sip of water and finish the rest of the water over 30 minutes.
- About 1 hour after taking the last tablet, fill the container again with 16 oz water and drink it over 30 minutes.
- About 30 minutes after drinking the second container of water, drink another 16 oz over 30 minutes.
The total dosage for OsmoPrep is 32 tablets, split between the evening before and the morning of the procedure.
The evening before
A person should take four tablets with 8 oz of clear liquids every 15 minutes until they have taken a total of 20 tablets.
The morning of the colonoscopy
A person should take four tablets with 8 oz of clear liquids every 15 minutes until they have taken a total of 12 tablets.
Each person may find that their body responds in different ways to laxatives, and the time it takes for the bowels to empty may vary for each person.
Some people find that laxatives begin working straight away, but even if people have lighter, more watery stools, it is important to complete the full dosage of bowel prep.
People will know the bowel prep is effective once their bowel movements are watery and yellow or clear.
According to the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy (ASGE), people can expect bowel prep to cause multiple loose bowel movements, which will not usually cause excessive discomfort.
- abdominal pain
Other types of bowel prep include liquid preparations that people drink. Some of these may come in powder form, which people may then mix with a clear liquid.
These medications may contain the same active ingredients as the pill formulations, such as Suprep, and some may vary, such as MiraLAX.
Both tablet and liquid prep require people to drink large amounts of fluid for them to work properly. With liquid bowel prep, people may need to drink 10–128 oz of fluid, depending on the brand of laxative.
A healthcare professional will be able to recommend bowel prep options for people. People can also let their doctor know if they would prefer to take bowel prep in liquid or tablet form.
Some types or brands of bowel prep may be more expensive than others. People can discuss costs with a doctor and insurance provider to find out which options are most affordable and which may be covered.
There are also resources available to help people cover the costs of having a colonoscopy, such as:
- Colonoscopy Assist: Colonoscopy Assist offers prep medication assistance and financial support for colonoscopies.
- Colorectal Cancer Alliance: The Colorectal Cancer Alliance offers funding programs to support the costs associated with colon screening and colorectal cancer.
- Fight Colorectal Cancer: The organization has a resource page listing financial support options for paying for colon or rectal cancer treatments.
Other steps for preparing for a colonoscopy include:
- letting a doctor know if a person is taking any medications, herbs, or supplements, as certain substances may interfere with bowel prep
- eating a low fiber diet, such as white bread, rice, pasta, well-cooked vegetables, fruit without seeds or skin, and tender meat from chicken or fish
- stopping eating all solid foods the day before the colonoscopy
- drinking clear liquids, such as water, broth, or certain fruit juices
- avoiding any dairy products, alcohol, or red or purple liquids
- arranging a driver to take the person to and from the colonoscopy
Learn more about how to prepare for a colonoscopy.
Bowel preparation pills are laxatives people take to empty the bowels before a colonoscopy.
People may take the pills as a split dose, dividing the tablets between the evening before the colonoscopy and the morning of the procedure.
People will also need to follow any other guidelines for colonoscopy prep, such as eating a low fiber diet and avoiding solid foods the day before.
The type of bowel prep may vary for each person depending on medical conditions, costs, and preferences.