Jun 13, 2019
There are plenty of medical ailments and procedures that people don’t really want to talk about - and colonoscopies are right up there near the top of that list. Often, this fact makes it hard to find information when you need it, so I figured to hell with it - I’m going to tell the internet all about my experiences having a colonoscopy here in Japan.
Without further ado, here’s my guide to my colonoscopy experience here in Japan - where I went for it, how to prepare, and the costs.
I decided to go to Tokyo Medical and Surgical Clinic for the procedure. You will need a consultation first with the gastrointestinal specialist before they’ll book you in, where they’ll go with you through the reasons why you are requesting the procedure (in my case it’s a long family history of colon cancer), the risk factors of the procedure, and what you need to do to prepare for it.
I chose the clinic here for a couple of specific reasons. One, the staff here all speak English. It’s a procedure that I’m not thrilled about having to do regularly anyway, so not having a language barrier there if anything is problematic is hugely important to me. Secondly, sedation for the procedure is standard at this clinic. I’ve been told that usually, sedation for colonoscopies at standard Japanese hospitals isn’t the case.
One big point to keep in mind about visiting this clinic is insurance coverage. This clinic is NOT covered by JNHI. If you have international insurance courtesy of an employer, then you should be able to claim on your policy there. If not, you’re going to be paying out of pocket.
Preparing for the procedure
The clinic give you everything you need to prepare for the procedure, which includes some instruction pamphlets to let you know when you need to take certain doses of medicine, and the medicine itself.
Ideally it’s instructed to follow a low fiber diet for the week leading up to your colonoscopy date. This makes the entire colonoscopy prep much easier. Low fiber diets include things like bread, white rice, white pasta, ice cream, potatoes and such. Avoid things like nuts, seeds, and fruit or veggies that have skin on them - basically anything that's going to take your body a long time to digest.
The day before the procedure itself, you’re on a zero food, clear liquids or jello only diet. Juice is fine (apple is best IMO) but ensure the juice you have doesn’t have any pith. Basically your rule of thumb is as long as it’s see-through juice, soda, tea, coffee - you’re good. Also, avoid anything clear that’s red or purple colored - I’ve been advised that it can color the lining of your intestines and look suspect when the doctors are performing the procedure.
The hardest part in my opinion of a colonoscopy is the preparation. You have to drink a pretty sizeable quantity of liquid to flush your intestines out, and the stuff will forever be known to me as the devil’s Pocari. It has that slightly “citrus” tang but it’s really just going to clear you out at the speed of light. Highly recommend not ever being too far from the bathroom once you start taking the medicine.
Almost 2 liters of colonoscopy prep liquid (aka the Devil’s Pocari!)
The day of the procedure
You're not going to be feeling great, most likely, since you haven't really had anything to eat for 24+ hours and you're very likely dehydrated too. Showtime at the clinic for me was half an hour before the procedure itself, where they will ask you a few basic questions to make sure that your colon is the level of cleared out it needs to be for the procedure to be successful.
With the sedation, you're not going to remember much of anything from the procedure. The medical staff will debrief you once you're awake and coherent again about any concerns they've had if those are relevant to your situation. Hopefully though you’ll get a clean bill of health! They’ll also give you a bite to eat and a drink, which will taste like heaven after not having eaten solid food for 24+ hours.
You’ll need to have someone pick you up from the clinic - no driving allowed for 24 hours after the sedation. Also, you’re instructed to take it easy, particularly in regards to food - avoid anything too spicy or potentially irritating to your digestive system immediately afterward.
One thing to keep in mind if you have travel plans is that you're advised not to fly for a week if any polyps are removed. If travel plans are in your immediate future, it may be best to schedule your colonoscopy away from those dates as a precautionary measure.
The financial side of things
As I mentioned previously, if you go to Tokyo Medical and Surgical clinic and you only have JNHI, you’re not going to be covered for the procedure and all costs incurred will be paid by you.
Initial Consultation: 15,000 yen
Medicine required for the procedure: approx 4,000 yen
Procedure itself: 80,000 yen for a standard colonoscopy*
Sedation: 8,000 yen
*Do note that if they find any polyps during your colonoscopy, there are additional costs incurred for their removal.
Even though the procedure wasn’t covered by JNHI, I highly recommend Tokyo Medical &
Surgical Clinic if you need a colonoscopy and would rather be sedated and have English speaking staff. Sure, it’s not an easy procedure, but the staff here were fantastic and it’s very important to be proactive with your health!
After spending the last several years in the beating heart of Tokyo, I will be spending the next three in the countryside of Japan. I adore this country and all it has to offer - and I'm always learning more and more about life here as I go along!