Flex Sigmoidoscopy

Flexible sigmoidoscopy is a procedure using a flexible scope that enables your physician to examine the lining of the rectum and a portion of the large intenstine (also called the colon).


What to Expect

Flexible sigmoidoscopy is usually well tolerated and rarely causes much pain. There is often a feeling of pressure, bloating, or cramping at various times during the procedure. You will lie on your left side while the sigmoidoscope is advanced through the rectum and colon. As the instrument is withdrawn, your physician carefully examines the lining of the intestine. The procedure usually takes 5 to 15 minutes.

What can be Found?

If the doctor sees an area that needs evaluation in greater detail, a biopsy (sample of the colon lining) may be obtained and submitted to a laboratory for greater analysis. If growths of tissue called polyps are found, they can be biopsied but are usually not removed at the time of the sigmoidoscopy.

Polyps are of varying sizes and types. Certain benign polyps are potentially precancerous and may require removal. Other polyps may not require removal. Your doctor will likely request that you have a complete examination of the colon, called a colonoscopy, to remove any large polyps or any small polyps that are deemed precancerous after biopsy analysis.

What Happens Afterwards?

After your sigmoidoscopy, the physician will explain the results to you. You may have some mild cramping or a bloating sensation because of the air that has been passed into the colon during the examination. This will disappear quickly with the passage of gas. You should be able to eat and resume your normal activities after leaving your doctor’s office or the hospital.

How to Prepare

The rectum and lower colon must be completely empty of waste material for the procedure to be accurate and complete. Your physician will give you detailed instructions regarding the cleansing routine you should use. In general, preparation consists of two enemas prior to the procedure. In some circumstances, for example, if you have acute diarrhea or colitis, your physician may advise you to forgo any special preparation before the examination.

Several days prior to the examination, you should inform your physician of all current medications, including aspirin or blood thinners, as well as any allergies to medications. Most medications can be continued as usual. Also notify your physican if you require antibiotics prior to undergoing dental procedures, since you may need them prior to your sigmoidoscopy as well.

Reasons for Flexible Sigmoidoscopy

  • Detect inflamed tissue, abnormal growths and ulcers
  • Screen for early signs of cancer
  • Determine cause of abdominal pain, changes in bowel habits, rectal bleeding, and weight loss

Possible Risks and Complications

Flexible sigmoidoscopy and biopsy are generally safe and well tolerated. While possible complications after flexible sigmoidoscopy are rare, it is important for you to recognize early signs of any possible complication, including but not limited to the following:

  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Fever and chills
  • Rectal bleeding of more than one half cup (It is important to note that some rectal bleeding can occur even several days after the biopsy.)