Flexible Sigmoidoscopy

  • Medical Author: Bhupinder Anand, MD
  • Medical Editor: Jay W. Marks, MD
    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD, is a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist. He graduated from Yale University School of Medicine and trained in internal medicine and gastroenterology at UCLA/Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

woman with abdominal pain

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What can I expect during flexible sigmoidoscopy?

Flexible sigmoidoscopy is generally well tolerated and rarely causes any significant pain. There may be a sensation of fullness, bloating, pressure, or cramping during the procedure. In most instances, you will be lying on your left side while the instrument is advanced through the rectum and the colon under direct vision on a TV monitor. As the instrument is withdrawn, a careful examination is made of the lining of the colon. The procedure usually takes only 5 to 15 minutes.

What if something abnormal is found during flexible sigmoidoscopy?

If the doctor finds an area in the colon that needs further evaluation, a biopsy (small sample of tissue) can be obtained and sent to the pathology department for examination under a microscope. If a polyp is found, the doctor may remove the polyp at the same time. Polyps are small growths on the inner lining of the colon and the rectum. Most polyps are benign (not cancerous), but some polyps are precancerous. Patients with precancerous polyps are usually asked to return for a colonoscopy after a more vigorous colon cleansing. Colonoscopy is a longer version of flexible sigmoidoscopy where the doctor examines the entire length of the colon. For more, please read the Colonoscopy article. The advantage of colonoscopy over flexible sigmoidoscopy is the ability to find and remove polyps in the parts of colon that are beyond the reach of the flexible sigmoidoscope. Removal of all of the precancerous polyps during colonoscopy has been shown to prevent colon cancer.

What happens after the flexible sigmoidoscopy?

After the procedure, the examiner will explain the findings to you. You may have some residual cramping or bloating because of the air that was instilled into your colon during the procedure. This should quickly disappear with the passage of gas or flatus. It can be expedited by walking about in the room. Under most circumstances, you should be able to resume your regular activities upon leaving the doctor's office or the hospital.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/24/2015

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