Flexible sigmoidoscopy lets your doctor examine the lining of the
rectum and a portion of the colon (large intestine) by inserting a
flexible tube about the thickness of your finger into the anus and
slowly advancing it into the rectum and lower part of the colon. If
your doctor has recommended a flexible sigmoidoscopy, this will give you a basic understanding of the procedure - how it is
performed, how it can help, and what side effects you might experience.
It can't answer all of your questions, since a lot depends of the
individual patient and the doctor. Please ask your doctor about
anything you don't understand.
What preparation is required?
Your doctor will tell you what cleansing routine to use. In general,
preparation consists of one or two enemas prior to the procedure but
could include laxatives or dietary modifications as well. However, in
some circumstances your doctor might advise you to forgo any special
preparation. Because the rectum and lower colon must be completely
empty for the procedure to be accurate, it's important to follow your
doctor's instructions carefully.
Should I continue my current medications?
Most medications can be continued as usual. Inform your doctor about
medications that you're taking - particularly aspirin products or
anticoagulants (blood thinners) -- as well as any allergies you have to
medications. Also, tell your doctor if you require antibiotics prior to
dental procedures, because you might need antibiotics prior to
sigmoidoscopy as well.
What can I expect during flexible sigmoidoscopy?
Flexible sigmoidoscopy is usually well-tolerated. You might experience
a feeling of pressure, bloating or cramping during the procedure. You
will lie on your side while your doctor advances the sigmoidoscope
through the rectum and colon. As your doctor withdraws the instrument,
your doctor will carefully examine the lining of the intestine.
What if the flexible sigmoidoscopy finds something abnormal?
If your doctor sees an area that needs further evaluation, your doctor
might take a biopsy (sample of the colon lining) to be analyzed.
Biopsies are used to identify many conditions, and your doctor might
order one even if he or she doesn't suspect cancer.
If your doctor finds polyps, he or she might take a biopsy of them
as well. Polyps, which are growths from the lining of the colon, vary
in size and types. Polyps known as "hyperplastic" might not require
removal, but benign polyps known as "adenomas" are potentially
precancerous. Your doctor might ask you to have a colonoscopy (a
complete examination of the colon) to remove any large polyps or any
What happens after a flexible sigmoidoscopy?
Your doctor will explain the results to you when the procedure is done.
You might feel bloating or some mild cramping because of the air that
was passed into the colon during the examination. This will disappear
quickly when you pass gas. You should be able to eat and resume your
normal activities after leaving your doctor's office or the hospital,
assuming you did not receive any sedative medication.
What are possible complications of flexible sigmoidoscopy?
Flexible sigmoidoscopy and biopsy are safe when performed by doctors
who are specially trained and experienced in these endoscopic
procedures. Complications are rare, but it's important for you to
recognize early signs of possible complications. Contact your doctor if
you notice severe abdominal pain, fevers and chills, or rectal bleeding
of more than one-half cup. Note that rectal bleeding can occur several
days after the biopsy.
Reprinted from the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy (ASGE).