Flexible Sigmoidoscopy

What is flexible sigmoidoscopy?

Flexible sigmoidoscopy is an examination of the rectum and lower colon. During exam your physician will inspect the lining of the lower colon to look for growths or other abnormalities.

The test is performed with a slim, flexible fibrotic scope. This instrument is inserted into the rectum and gently advanced into the lower colon. The camera and light on the end of the scope allow the physician to easily see the colon wall. The physician can also take pictures during the exam.

Why your physician or health care provider may want you to have a flexible sigmoidoscopy?

There are many reasons why a flexible sigmoidoscopy may be ordered. Your physician or healthcare provider will explain the reason for your exam. Some reasons for this exam may include:

  • Determining a reason for bleeding or a change in bowel habits.
  • Establishing a baseline of colon health as a requirement for participation in a research study.
  • Checking the effect of treatments for disease in this part of the colon.

Although the “gold standard” exam for determining colon health is a complete colonoscopy, your physician or health care provider may determine that in your situation a flexible sigmoidoscopy is all that is necessary.

How to get ready for a flexible sigmoidoscopy?

A clean, empty colon is essential for a successful sigmoidoscopy. You will receive instructions on how to best prepare your colon for the exam. It is very important that you follow the instructions completely. Failure to do this may result in an incomplete exam or your exam may need to be rescheduled.

Before the exam you will be admitted to the endoscopy center. A careful health and medication history will be taken and you will change into a hospital gown. If you are going to receive sedation for this exam, an IV will be inserted. Your physician will speak to you prior to the exam and answer any questions you may have. During the exam you will be asked to lie on your left side with your knees bent. As much as possible, every effort will be made to keep you covered and warm.

The exam usually takes about 5-10 minutes. It is common to feel some mild discomfort during the exam usually described as cramping. This is due to the scope advancing into the colon and the
injection of air to assist the physician in viewing the colon.

If your physician sees any area in your colon that is inflamed or suspicious he or she may take a biopsy of that area. Even if your colon looks completely normal, biopsies may be taken for microscopic analysis.

When the exam is over and you feel well, you will get up and use the rest room. It is normal to expel some air and some of the lubricant after the exam. If biopsies were taken, some bleeding may also be seen. This is all normal.

Will I be sedated for this exam?

Normally patients having this exam are not sedated. It is a short exam and is usually associated with minor discomfort. However, if you are interested in receiving sedation for your exam, please discuss this with your physician or healthcare provider.

If you are sedated for this exam, you will be in the facility for at least 45 minutes following the exam. You will also be required to bring someone with you to take you home. You will not be able to drive until the next day.

Are there any complications?

Flexible sigmoidoscopy is safe and is associated with very few risks when performed by physicians who have been trained and are experienced in performing these procedures. Complications can occur, but they are rare. One possible complication is a perforation. This is a tear through the colon wall. It is a serious complication requiring hospitalization and possibly surgery to correct the problem.

Bleeding may also occur especially if biopsies are taken. This is usually minor and stops on its own. If it continues, it can be controlled using cautery (the application of an electric current) using a special instrument that is put though the scope.


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