Flexible sigmoidoscopy is the visual examination of the lining of the lower intestine (sigmoid colon) and rectum. The lower intestine is 5-6 feet long. In this procedure, only the latter part (1-2 feet) of the lower intestine is examined. The purpose of the exam is to identify any abnormalities by inserting a flexible fiber optic tube into the anus. The tube, which is about the thickness of your finger, is slowly passed into the rectum and sigmoid colon. The results obtained from sigmoidoscopy may help explain the cause of symptoms such as rectal bleeding, pain, or diarrhea.
How do I prepare for the exam?
The rectum and colon must be thoroughly clean in order for the exam to be accurate and complete. Usually, this is accomplished by administering two enemas, but follow all directions provided by your physician.
What happens during the Flexible Sigmoidoscopy?
While lying on your left side with your knees bent, the physician will perform a finger exam of the anus and rectum. The sigmoidoscope will be inserted, and the physician will be able to visualize the bowel wall. As air is inflated into the bowel, you may experience slight cramping or gas. You may also feel lower abdominal pressure as the instrument is moved through the lower bowel. The exam usually takes 5-15 minutes. A small tissue specimen (biopsy) may be taken from the lining of the colon for microscopic analysis. This will not cause any discomfort. If there is an abnormal growth (polyp), a sample of it may be taken or your physician may schedule you to come back for a more extensive exam.
What can I expect after the exam?
You can expect to feel bloating for about 30-60 minutes afterwards. This sensation will be relieved as gas is passed. Your physician will discuss the findings of the exam and provide you with instructions to follow when you return home.
Are there any possible complications?
Flexible sigmoidoscopy is safe and is associated with very low risk. Complications that could occur, but are rare, include perforation (rupture) of the sigmoid colon, and bleeding if a biopsy is taken.