Background: Colonic spasm can interfere with colonoscopy by hindering insertion of the colonoscope and by making polypectomy difficult, painful, and dangerous. Methods for dealing with colonic spasm include waiting for it to subside and administration of antispasmodic agents such as glucagon or hyoscyamine. Glucagon is expensive and hyoscyamine has side effects. This study evaluated an inexpensive technique, warm water irrigation, for overcoming colonic spasm during colonoscopy.
Methods: A prospective, randomized, controlled trial in a consecutive series of patients was conducted to compare warm water irrigation for relaxation of spasm with standard examination techniques. Patients in whom the sigmoid colon had been resected were excluded. In the test group, water from the hot water tap at approximately body temperature was instilled into the colon by means of the accessory channel of the colonoscope with a 30 mL syringe. Any irrigation, either for removal of stool or control of spasm, was performed with warm water in the test group and water at room temperature in the control group. After each colonoscopy, the level of pain experienced by the patient was recorded with a linear analog scale.
Results: Sixty-nine patients were randomized. The groups were similar with respect to gender distribution, age, and degree of spasm. There was no difference between groups for insertion time, total duration of colonoscopy, dose of midazolam administered, or frequency of severe spasm. Patients who had warm water irrigation had significantly less discomfort than control patients (median 2.0, interquartile range: 1-4 on a 10 point linear analog scale, vs. 4.0, interquartile range: 2-5).
Conclusions: Although glucagon and hyoscyamine remain options for treatment of colonic spasm, the results of this study suggest that warm water is also effective. It has no side effects and costs practically nothing.