A flexible sigmoidoscopy exam is often used in the evaluation of the lower part of the large intestine, or the colon, and also the rectum. The exam is conducted by your physician with the use of a sigmoidoscope, a flexible tube that is about 60 cm long and comprises the thickness of your little finger.
Your gastroenterologist may recommend a flexible sigmoidoscopy exam to investigate the cause of certain symptoms, such as:
- Changes in bowel habits
- Rectal bleeding
- Rectal pain
Flexible sigmoidoscopy is also often utilized to evaluate the colon and to screen for colon cancer.
Preparing for a Flexible Sigmoidoscopy
In order to avoid unnecessary complications during your exam, it is very important that you follow all directions that your physician provides you with in detail. It is likely that your physician will instruct you to cleanse your colon with enemas before undergoing the procedure. It is very important that there is no stool in your lower colon or rectum in order for your doctor to obtain accurate results from the flexible sigmoidoscopy exam. In situations where the exam is being prompted by frequent diarrhea you may not require any laxative use in preparation for the exam. Your physician will be able to provide you with specified instructions tailored to your individual needs and purposes in preparation for your upcoming flexible sigmoidoscopy.
Prior to undergoing any type of examination it is important to speak with your physician regarding all medications that you are currently taking in addition to your history of health complications. Be especially cautious to discuss your health history with your doctor if you have any heart conditions, an artificial heart valve or have had a knee or hip replaced in the past.
What to expect during a Flexible Sigmoidoscopy
In general, the flexible sigmoidoscopy exam does not cause much pain or discomfort, and as a result sedation is usually not required. Due to the lack of sedation you will be able to return to your daily schedule after your exam. During your exam, your physician will insert the sigmoidoscope into your rectum. This typically causes mild feelings of fullness, pressure, cramping and the sensation of being bloated. During the exam, you will be instructed to lie on your left side and as the sigmoidoscope is advanced through your rectum and colon your physician will be able to see enhanced images on a TV monitor in the examination room. The procedure typically encompasses between five to fifteen minutes.
If an abnormality is detected within your rectum or colon, your physician will be able to obtain a tissue sample (or biopsy) to be evaluated further under a microscope. One common abnormality found during this exam is a polyp, which is a small growth that occurs on the inner lining of the colon. If the polyps are found during your flexible sigmoidoscopy, you may be asked to return for a colonoscopy, a similar exam that evaluates the entire length of your colon instead of just the lower part.
After the examination is complete you will be able to return to your normal routine. You may experience cramping and bloating for the remainder of the day, but these symptoms will pass quickly.