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Flexible sigmoidoscopy

A flexible sigmoidoscopy is a procedure to look at the inside of the left, lower part of your colon using a flexible telescope.

You may have a problem in the lower part of your large bowel which can be identified using flexible sigmoidoscopy.

If the endoscopist identifies a problem, a biopsy can be performed to help with the diagnosis. Sometimes a polyp (small growth) can be the cause of the problem and the endoscopist may be able to remove the growth during the procedure.

This procedure is recommended as the best way of diagnosing most problems with the lower part of your large bowel.

A colonoscopy is similar to a flexible sigmoidoscopy but the endoscopist looks all the way around your large bowel and the procedure has slightly higher risks.

Other options include a CT scan of your large bowel. If your consultant finds a problem, you may still need a flexible sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy to treat the problem or perform biopsies.

Before the procedure, you will be given laxatives or an enema before your procedure. This is to make sure that your bowel is empty so that the endoscopist can have a clear view.

You will be given detailed instructions in advance of the procedure which will need to be followed carefully.

A flexible sigmoidoscopy usually takes 15 to 20 minutes and takes place in the endoscopy suite.

Although the procedure is uncomfortable it should not be too painful.

You will not usually need a sedative however if your endoscopist recommends that you have a sedative they will give it to you through a small needle into the arm or back of your hand.

The endoscopist may offer you a painkiller and weak anaesthetic that you breathe through a mask or mouthpiece.

The endoscopist will ask you to lie on your left-hand side to perform the procedure.

The endoscopist will place a flexible telescope into your back passage. Air is then blown into your large bowel wall to help provide a clear view up to the splenic flexure.

Problems such as inflammation or polyps can be identified during the procedure. Polyps are extra-large growths of tissue on the bowel wall that can range in size. They are usually benign (not cancers), but if left can sometimes become cancerous.

Most polyps can be removed painlessly and completely during the test. Biopsies and photographs can be taken during the procedure to help make the diagnosis.

A flexible sigmoidoscopy is usually a safe and effective way of finding out if there is a problem however complications can happen. You need to know about these complications to help you to make an informed decision about the procedure.

If you were not given a sedative, you should be able to go home and return to normal activities straight away.

If you were given a sedative, you will first be transferred to the recovery area where you can rest and have a drink. You will usually recover an hour after the procedure, but this depends on how much sedative you were given. You will be given detailed instructions on what you can and cannot do for the following 24 hours.

You may feel a bit bloated for a few hours, but this will pass.

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