Do you need an anesthesiologist for a colonoscopy?  The answer is:  it depends. It depends on 1) your health, 2) the conscious sedation skills of your gastroenterologist, and 3) the facility you have your colonoscopy at.


1)  YOUR HEALTH. The majority of colonoscopies in the United States are performed under conscious sedation.  Conscious sedation is administered by a registered nurse, under specific orders from the gastroenterologist.  The typical drugs are Versed (midazolam) and fentanyl.  Versed is a benzodiazepine, or Valium-like medication, that is superb in reducing anxiety, sleepiness, and producing amnesia.  Fentanyl is a narcotic pain reliever, similar to a short-acting morphine.  The combination of these two types of medications renders a patient sleepy but awake.  Most patients can minimal or no recollection of the colonoscopy procedure when under the influence of these two drugs.  I can speak from personal experience, as I had a colonoscopy myself, with conscious sedation with Versed and fentanyl, and I remembered nothing of the procedure.

If you are a reasonably healthy adult, you should be fine having the procedure under conscious sedation.  Patients with high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma, obesity, mild to moderate sleep apnea, advanced age, or stable cardiac disease are have conscious sedation for colonoscopies in America every day, without significant complications.

Certain patients are not good candidates for conscious sedation, and require an anesthesiologist for sedation or general anesthesia.  Included in this category are a) patients on large doses of chronic narcotics for chronic pain, who are tolerant to the fentanyl and are therefore difficult to sedate, b) certain patients with morbid obesity, c) certain patients with severe sleep apnea, and d) certain patients with severe heart or breathing problems.

2)  THE CONSCIOUS SEDATION SKILLS OF YOUR GASTROENTEROLOGIST.  Most gastroenterologists are comfortable directing registered nurses in the administration of conscious sedation drugs.  Some, however, are not.  These gastroenterologists will disclose this to their patients, and recommend that an anesthesiologist administer general anesthesia for the procedure.

3) THE FACILITY YOU HAVE YOUR COLONOSCOPY AT.  Most endoscopy facilities have nurses and gastroenterologists comfortable with conscious sedation.  Some do not.  The facility you are referred to may have a consistent policy of having an anesthesiologist administer general anesthesia with propofol for all colonoscopies.  If this is true, they should disclose this to you, the patient, before you start your bowel prep for the procedure.  A facility which always utilizes general anesthesia means that you, the patient, will incur one extra physician bill for your procedure, from an anesthesiologist.

I refer you to an article from the New York Times, which summarizes this phenomenon in the New York region:

One last point: If the drugs Versed and fentanyl are used, there exist specific and effective antidotes for each drug if the patient becomes oversedated. The antagonist for Versed is Romazicon (flumazenil), and the antagonist for fentanyl is Narcan (naloxone). If these drugs are injected promptly into the IV of an oversedated patient, the patient will wake up in seconds, before any oxygen deprivation affects the brain or heart.

Propofol, however, has no specific antagonist. Propofol only wears off as it is redistributed out of the blood stream into other tissues, and its blood level declines. A propofol overdose can cause obstruction of breathing, and/or depression of breathing, such that the blood oxygen level is insufficient for the brain and heart. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) mandates that a Black Box warning be included in the packaging of every box of propofol. That warning states that propofol “should be administered only by persons trained in the administration of general anesthesia and not involved in the conduct of the surgical/diagnostic procedure.”

Anesthesiologists are experts at using propofol. I administer propofol to 99% of my patients who are undergoing general anesthesia for a surgical procedure. Anesthesiologists are experts at managing airways and breathing. Individuals who are not trained to administer general anesthesia should never administer propofol to a patient, in a hospital or in an outpatient surgery center.

I serve as the Medical Director of an outpatient surgery center in Palo Alto, California. We perform a variety of orthopedic, head and neck, plastic, ophthalmic, and general surgery procedures safely each year. In addition, our gastroenterologists perform thousands of endoscopies each year. I review the charts of the endoscopy patients as well as the surgical patients prior to the procedures, and in our center, approximately 99% of endoscopies can be safely performed under Versed and fentanyl conscious sedation, without the need for an anesthesiologist attending to the patient.

If you have an endoscopy, ask questions. Will you receive conscious sedation with drugs like Versed and fentanyl, or will an anesthesiology professional administer propofol? You deserve to know.



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  1. If you want to be safe you need an anesthesiologist performing your case 1:1 personally without supervising other cases. In other words: you need an anesthesiologist doing his/her job not “supervising” nurses (CRNA) who can kill you……………..My BC/BS pays for an anesthesiologist; why would I EVER accept a nurse (such as a CRNA)?

  2. I’m unlucky enough to have the gene that puts me at high risk for developing colon cancer and yearly colonoscopies are recommended. I have had a LOT of them. I’m not a medical doctor (my doctorate is in theoritical wife is a medical doctor)..I was shocked to find out that many endo centers expect a patient (me) to consent to anesthesia (“conscious sedation, “twilight sleep” ect) administered by a NURSE (CRNA) instead of an anesthesiologist ( a MD?DO not a nurse)….anesthesiologist=9 years plus rigorus medical training vs CRNA (a nurse with 20 months of additional nurse-anesthetist training). For God’s sake! Who would want a CRNA (a nurse) performing their anesthesia? Not me. If your colonoscopy is being done by an endo center that says: “anesthesiologist care” make sure that no CRNA are involved (write on the consent: “I’m not consenting to any CRNA services”..otherwise your anesthesia care (and your life) willbe in the hands of a nurse (CRNA) with no medical training…..I always specify anesthesiologist-onlyanesthesia..and after some initial griping (from CRNA), I alwyas get anesthesiologist-only anesthesia…you can too; just insist and put your request on the anesthesia consent form.

  3. I had 2 colonoscopies in 2015 with propofol and I developed sleep apnea after them.
    Is this seen in other patients, is long term damage to be expected or can this wear
    off over time, and can I do anything to try to rid the propofol from my body?

    1. Paul,

      Let me reassure you that propofol does not cause sleep apnea. Ever. Sleep apnea is a disorder that can be dangerous during anesthesia, if a patient’s airway and breathing are not maintained safely, but there is no cause and effect relationship.

      The propofol is long gone from your body. The reason we use propofol is because it is ultra-short acting.
      99.99% of the drug will be out of your body within the first 24-48 hours.



  4. Doctor I have been under anesthesia twice. Both times caused me to have major nervous breakdowns. I need a colonoscopy and Iam terrified that this will happen again. Please advise me. I truely believe Iam highly allergic.

    1. Discuss your past medical history and you anxiety with your doctor. Modern anesthesia is quite safe for most people, and your doctor(s) will prescribe the best anesthetic regimen for your anxiety and your past history.


  5. I had my 6th colonoscopy recently and propofol was used. I was surprised to get bills from 2 different anesthesiologists with 2 different companies each for $952. I called BCBS and all they had to say was “we paid both bills so it must have been okay.” My share of the bills is not that much. Regardless, does having 2 anesthesiologists make sense?

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