Low Residue Diet May Improve Colonoscopy Experience

Patients now have one less reason to shy away from getting a colonoscopy. New findings presented at Digestive Disease Week 2016 indicate that individuals who follow a low residue diet during the 24-hour period prior to their colonoscopy have improved results and higher satisfaction rates compared to patients who follow the standard clear liquid diet.

The colonoscopy is the gold standard in colon cancer screening, and its accuracy depends largely on adequate bowel preparation. The bowel preparation process consists of following a modified diet and consuming a laxative solution to thoroughly cleanse the colon prior to the exam. Previous guidelines restricted patients to a clear liquid diet during the 24 hours leading up to the exam, but recent changes now allow patients to consume low residue foods that break down easily in the digestive tract.

Jason Samarasena, M.D., associate clinical professor of medicine in the division of gastroenterology and hepatology at the University of California, Irvine, led a study to compare bowel preparation effectiveness and patient satisfaction rates in both clear liquid and low residue diets. The study followed 83 patients at a Veteran's Administration Hospital and a tertiary care facility over the period of one year. Patients on the clear liquid diet were restricted to black coffee, tea, broth, or other clear liquids for a period of 24 hours. Patients on the low residue diet were allowed three small meals containing protein, carbohydrate and fat. Permissible foods included rice, chicken breast, lunch meat, bread, butter, yogurt, eggs, ice cream and some cheeses.

The findings of the study indicated that patients on the low residue diet had a much higher number of adequate bowel preparations, increasing their chances of a successful and conclusive exam. These patients also reported lower hunger scores during the preparation process and lower fatigue scores following the procedure. These factors contributed to a much higher satisfaction rate overall. Participants in the low residue diet group gave their diet a 97 percent satisfaction rate, compared to the clear liquid diet group who gave their diet a 46 percent satisfaction rate (Source: EurekAlert!).

Gastroenterologists may refrain from recommending a low residue diet for patients with specific illnesses or complications. However, Samarasena explained that these types of patients were included in the study, and they too benefited from the low residue diet.

"We hope this will change the way practitioners actually operate, and, in turn, help increase patients' willingness to participate in this vital screening process," he said.

While this study is fairly new and shows promising results for a low residue diet, you should follow your doctor's specific instructions when preparing for a colonoscopy.