Understanding flexible sigmoidoscopy

What is a flexible sigmoidoscopy?

A flexible sigmoidoscopy uses a thin, flexible tube called a sigmoidoscope to examine the lower part of your colon. It is passed through your rectum and into your bowel or large intestine by your consultant. 

Why might I need a flexible sigmoidoscopy?

You may consider flexible sigmoidoscopy to check any bowel symptoms you have had in the past, or to remove any growths (polyps) that are concerning. 

Flexible sigmoidoscopy may also be necessary if you are experiencing the following symptoms: 

  • Abdominal pain  
  • Bleeding from your anus
  • Chronic diarrhea  
  • Changes in your bowel habits  

You may also want to have this procedure if you have a strong family history of bowel cancer, or if you need check-ups from a previous diagnosis.

We will send you a letter with everything you need to know, and we will be available to answer any questions or worries you may have.  

You may be required to have an enema when you arrive on the ward. The enema is a liquid placed in your rectum with a purpose to empty anything remaining in your bowel. This ensures that your consultant is able to examine your bowel properly without any obstruction.  

You will need to have this at least an hour before the procedure, but we will take care of this for you when you arrive. Alternatively, you can administer this at home before arriving at the hospital in which case we will give you all the instructions to do so.  

Once you have taken the enema you will not be able to drink or eat anything else before the procedure. 

Be sure to inform us about any medication you are currently taking before going ahead with the procedure.  

The procedure normally lasts between 10-30 minutes. 
You may be offered a sedation.
You will lie on your side while your doctor carefully places the sigmoidoscope through your rectum and into your bowel where they will examine the lining. This will be uncomfortable but not painful. 
Air will be blown into your bowel so that your doctor has a clear view of the area in order to perform a precise examination. This may make you feel bloated and may cause you to feel as if you need to pass wind. Your doctor will be expecting this so it is nothing to worry about or be embarrassed about.  
Images will be presented onto a TV screen so that your doctor can examine carefully. You may be asked to change positions during the procedure. This is so that your doctor can look at different parts of your bowel.  
Your doctor may remove any growths (polyps) if necessary and may take cell samples (biopsies). This will feel harmless. Sometimes if the polyps are big, you will need to come back to have these removed.  

You may experience slight bleeding from the rectum after the procedure. This is normal and nothing to worry about unless it becomes very heavy. If this happens please contact us straight away. 
You may also experience some bloating and temporary abdominal pain but this will pass quickly.  
If you had sedation then you will be taken to the recovery room to rest for a few hours. You will not be able to drive after this so you will need to arrange for someone to pick you up. 
If you did not have sedation then you will be discharged after you have had your results where you will be able to return home straight away.  
The test results from polyps and biopsies will be available within 2 weeks where you will then discuss the results with your consultant. You will then be advised on any further procedures or check-ups.  
You will be able to return to work within 24 hours after the examination. 

 A flexible sigmoidoscopy is a common procedure and is often nothing to worry about. 

The most serious but thankfully rare complication is perforation (a tear or hole in the colon). This may be noticed through signs of infection or abdominal pain that doesn’t settle and bloating. This is treated with medicine or surgery.

This is not common and should not worry you too much. Your nurse will discuss will help you with any concerns you may have.