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Sigmoidoscopy Patient Education

What is a flexible sigmoidoscopy?

Flexible sigmoidoscopy lets your doctor examine the lining of the rectum and a portion of the colon (large intestine) by inserting a flexible tube about the thickness of your finger into the anus and slowly advancing it into the rectum and lower part of the colon.

How do I prepare for the test?

The preparation for this test depends on what cleansing routine your doctor orders. In general, preparation consists of one or two enemas prior to the procedure but could include laxatives or dietary modifications as well. However, in some circumstances your doctor might advise you to forgo any special preparation. Because the rectum and lower colon must be completely empty for the procedure to be accurate, it’s important to follow your doctor’s instructions carefully.

What should I expect during the procedure?

A nurse will instruct you on breathing exercises that will help you during the procedure. You will be lying on a cart on your left side. Because the colon is a collapsed tube when it is empty, your doctor will put air into your colon so the walls can be seen. You may experience abdominal cramping during this time. Your doctor may choose to take biopsies (small pieces of colon tissue) to send to the laboratory for further study. Taking biopsies will not cause you discomfort.

If your doctor finds polyps, he or she might take a biopsy of them as well. Polyps, which are growths from the lining of the colon, vary in size and types. Polyps known as “hyperplastic” might not require removal, but benign polyps known as “adenomas” are potentially pre-cancerous. Your doctor will likely ask you to have a colonoscopy (a complete examination of the colon) to remove any large polyps or any small adenomas.

What can I expect after my test?

You may have some abdominal cramping at times. It is important to pass the air the doctor put in during the procedure. You will be able to prepare for discharge as soon as your test has been completed.

What are the complications of flexible sigmoidoscopy?

Flexible sigmoidoscopy and biopsy are safe when performed by doctors who are specially trained and experienced in these endoscopic procedures. Complications are rare, but it’s important for you to recognize early signs of possible complications. Contact your physician if you notice severe abdominal pain, fevers and chills, or rectal bleeding of more than one-half cup. Note that rectal bleeding can occur several days after the biopsy.

When will I get my results?

Your doctor will tell you what he/she has found before you are discharged. Results of biopsies or polyps will take approximately two days. Before you leave the Endoscopy unit, a nurse will give you further instructions depending on what your test involved.

The Endoscopy nurses have been specially trained to assist you in having a safe and comfortable examination.

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