A flexible sigmoidoscopy is a procedure that allows your doctor to examine the rectum and the lower (sigmoid) colon. The flexible sigmoidoscope is a flexible tube 60cm long and about the thickness or your little finger. This is inserted gently into the anus and advanced slowly into the rectum and the lower colon.
Before the procedure, you will meet the doctor carrying out your procedure to discuss your care. This treatment may be different from what is described here as it is tailored to meet your individual needs.
What happens during a flexible sigmoidoscopy?
The procedure usually takes between 10 and 20 minutes, you will be asked to but on a gown before your procedure. In total you will probably spend between one or two hours in hospital. The procedure may be uncomfortable but it should not be painful.
The procedure may require you to have a sedative this done to relieve anxiety and helps to relax you while they sigmoidoscopy takes place. This will be given to you via an injection into your hand or arm. For the procedure to take place you will be asked to lie on your left hand side with your legs bent. The doctor will gently examine your rectum by inserting a gloved finger. The sigmoidoscope with then be carefully inserted into your rectum, lubricating jelly will be used to make this as comfortable as possible. Air or carbon dioxide is passed through the scope into your lower bowel to make it expand and allow the doctor better visibility, the sigmoidoscope will take pictures of inside the bowel to a screen. Your doctor will look at these images and, if necessary, take a biopsy and/or remove any polyps you have, this should not cause you any pain.
Following the procedure
The recovery time of the procedure is dependent on whether or not you had a sedative. If you have not had a sedative you will usually be able to go home when ready. If you have had a sedative, you will stay a little longer and a nurse will monitor your blood pressure and pulse while you recover to make sure you are able to go home. You will not be able to drive, drink alcohol, operate machinery or sign legal documents for 24 hours afterwards as sedation temporarily affects your co-ordination and reasoning skills.
There may be a discussion with the doctor or nurse to explain what was seen in your bowel during the procedure. If you had a biopsy or polyps, the results will be ready in a few days.
Once you are home after the procedure it is best practice to rest and take it easy for the rest of that day, resuming to normal the following.
As with any procedure, there are risks associated, however these will need to be discussed with your doctor, as they are specific to you.
Side effects are unwanted but these are mostly temporarily and will be gone within a few hours: for example following the procedure you may have abdominal cramps or feel bloated. It is best to contact your doctor if the pain continues.
Possible complications of a flexible sigmoidoscopy
It is possible to bleed after the operation. This is most likely if you have had polyps removed or a biopsy taken. This will usually stop on its own within a few days. If the bleeding is heavy, you should contact the hospital where you had the procedure.
A tear in your bowel (bowel perforation). This is very rare but can happen during the procedure particularly if you have had a biopsy or had a polyp removed. You may need an operation to repair your bowel.
Sedatives on occasion can cause problems with your breathing, blood pressure and heart rate. You will be monitored while you are under sedation and during your recovery.