A flexible sigmoidoscopy is a routine test that is used to assess the lower part of the large intestine (colon). Performed with a thin flexible tube, which has a small light and camera at one end, this procedure can be used to check your bowel for signs of cancer and to investigate symptoms such as bleeding from the rectum.
Causes and Symptoms that Lead to a Flexible Sigmoidoscopy
There are numerous reasons why your doctor may recommend that you have a flexible sigmoidoscopy. These include:
Investigating intestinal signs and symptoms
A flexible sigmoidoscopy allows your doctor to study potential causes of abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, changes in bowel habits, chronic diarrhoea and other intestinal problems.
Monitoring problems in your bowel
This procedure can be used to monitor existing conditions such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
A condition in which a loop of intestine becomes twisted around itself and causes an obstruction of your bowel that can lead to symptoms such as sickness, constipation and abdominal pain.
Screening for cancer
This technique is used by doctors to examine people for colon and rectal cancer, including assessing bowel cancers prior to surgery. Suggested by doctors for people above the age of 50, to undergo every five years.
Sigmoidoscopy can sometimes be advised over a colonoscopy due to the preparations and the test taking less time, lower risk and anaesthetic usually isn’t necessary.
Alternatives to Flexible Sigmoidoscopy
There are some alternatives to having a flexible sigmoidoscopy that your doctor may suggest, depending on your symptoms and overall health. These include:
This is a similar procedure to a flexible sigmoidoscopy, used to look at the whole of your large bowel, not just the lower part and find the cause of the symptoms.
CT scans are ideal for diagnosing diseases. Gas is gently pumped into your back passage during the scan to stretch your bowel and allow clearer images to be taken.
In order to obtain an accurate diagnosis, your doctor may suggest additional tests.
How you prepare for a Flexible Sigmoidoscopy
A flexible sigmoidoscopy is generally carried out as an outpatient procedure, meaning you can go home the same day. If you are having a sedative, you will need to arrange for transport home and for someone to stay with you for 24 hours.
Prior to a flexible sigmoidoscopy exam, you will need to empty your colon to allow for a clear view of your colon and rectum during the examination. To empty your colon, you may be requested to:
- Adjust your diet before the exam. You may be asked not to eat anything after midnight the night before the examination and drinks must be limited to clear liquids, preferably water
- Take a laxative the night before the exam
- Use an enema kit. In some cases, you may be asked to have an enema. you might be sent this to do at home to carry out before the examination, or you may have it when you get to the hospital
- Change your medications. It is crucial you inform your doctor of any medications you take prior to the exam, particularly if you suffer from diabetes, take iron supplements or medications that contain iron, or if you take blood thinning medication.
Treatment and Procedure
A flexible sigmoidoscopy examination takes approximately 15 minutes (maybe longer if biopsies are taken) and sedation and pain medications are usually unnecessary.
You will be asked to lay on your side, usually in a gown with your knees up to your chest to allow your doctor to insert a sigmoidoscope into your rectum.
During a flexible sigmoidoscopy examination, a thin, flexible tube with a camera and light at the end (sigmoidoscope), is inserted into the rectum and moved around in your large bowel. The camera at the tip of the tube allows the doctor to assess the inside of the rectum and most of the sigmoid colon. The doctor will pump air in to expand your colon and provide clearer images of the colon lining (you may feel abdominal cramps when the scope or air is inserted). If necessary, during your flexible sigmoidoscopy examination, biopsies (small tissue samples) may be taken for analysis.
If a polyp is found during your examination, your doctor is likely to suggest a full colonoscopy as a flexible sigmoidoscopy does not allow the doctor to see the entire colon.
Following the procedure, you may find that you experience mild abdominal discomfort, feel bloated or pass gas more regularly, this is caused by the gas used during the examination; this should pass within a few hours. If you received a sedative, you will need to organise transport home and someone to stay with you for the first 24 hours after the exam.
Your doctor will review the results of your flexible sigmoidoscopy exam and contact you regarding their findings within 2 weeks. A result is considered negative if the doctor does not see any irregularities in your colon; in this case, your doctor may suggest waiting 5 years before repeating the exam. A positive result will mean they found abnormal tissue within the colon. You will likely be required to undergo further testing so that any abnormalities can be examined further or removed.
Risks and Complications
As with any medical procedure, there are some risks associated with having a flexible sigmoidoscopy. These are very rare but may include:
Most likely to appear if you have had a biopsy taken, although this usually stops on its own without any treatment. If bleeding is heavy and continuous, contact your doctor.
You may have some bloating, cramping or pain in your tummy (abdomen) following the test. This is due to the gas or air pumped into the bowel. This should go away after a few hours. Walking around, warm drinks and peppermint water may help you to pass wind.
This is rare, but you may get a high temperature and generally feel unwell.
Reaction to the sedative
If you have a reaction to the sedative, you will be prescribed medication for it.
Tear in your bowel
Very rarely there is a puncture in the bowel wall (perforation) during a sigmoidoscopy. If this happens, it is likely you need surgery to repair the tear. You will be given instructions on what to look out for and who to contact. Signs to look out for include:
- Extreme stomach or rectal pain
- Passing blood clots through the rectum
At One Healthcare we can book you in to see a specialist Gastroenterology Consultant for an initial consultation, usually within 48 hours. The flexible sigmoidoscopy procedure is available at One Ashford Hospital in Kent and One Hatfield Hospital in Hertfordshire.
You can use your private medical insurance or pay for your Flexible Sigmoidoscopy treatment. We offer competitive, fixed price packages as well as the ability to spread your cost with the option of 0% finance. If you are using your health insurance, please contact your insurer first for approval and let them know you’d like to be treated at One Hatfield Hospital.
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- Specialist physiotherapy and nursing teams
- Little or no waiting time
- ‘Ultra clean air’ theatres
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