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Diagnostics & Testing

Flexible Sigmoidoscopy

What is flexible sigmoidoscopy?

Flexible sigmoidoscopy is a routine outpatient procedure in which the inside of the lower large intestine (called the sigmoid colon) is examined.

Flexible sigmoidoscopy is commonly used to evaluate bowel disorders, rectal bleeding or polyps (usually benign growths). Sigmoidoscopy is also performed to screen people over age 50 for colon and rectal cancer.

What happens during the procedure?

During the procedure, a physician uses a sigmoidoscope (a long, flexible instrument about 1/2 inch in diameter) to view the lining of the rectum and the lower large intestine. The sigmoidoscope is inserted through the rectum and advanced to the large intestine.

Before the procedure

Special conditions
  • Tell the physician if you are pregnant, have a lung or heart condition, or if you are allergic to any medications.
  • Tell the physician if you have an artificial heart valve or if you have ever been told you need to take antibiotics before a dental or surgical procedure. If you have any of these conditions, you may need to take antibiotics before the sigmoidoscopy.

You will take two enemas before leaving home for the procedure because the rectum and lower intestine must be empty so that the intestinal walls can be seen. Try to hold the enema solution for at least 5 minutes before releasing it.

On the day of the procedure

A physician will explain the procedure in detail, including possible complications and side effects. The physician will also answer any questions you may have.

During the procedure

  • You are asked to wear a hospital gown.
  • The procedure is performed by a physician experienced in sigmoidoscopy.
  • The procedure lasts from 3 to 10 minutes.
  • You will lie on your left side, with your knees drawn up.
  • The sigmoidoscope is inserted through the rectum and advanced to the large intestine.
  • A small amount of air is used to expand the colon so the physician can see the colon walls.
  • You may feel mild cramping during the procedure. Cramping can be reduced by taking several slow, deep breaths.
  • The sigmoidoscope is slowly withdrawn while the lining of your bowel is carefully examined.

After the procedure

  • Your physician will discuss the results of the sigmoidoscopy with you.
  • You may feel some cramping or a sensation of having gas, but this usually passes quickly.
  • You may resume your normal diet and activities.
  • If polyps were found during the procedure, you may be advised to have a complete colon examination.
  • If you experience severe abdominal pain, fever, chills or heavy rectal bleeding (greater than 1 tsp. at a time), please call your doctor.

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 6/14/2012...#4953