What is a flexible sigmoidoscopy?
Flexible sigmoidoscopy is a diagnostic and potentially therapeutic procedure used to examine the lower portion of the colon with a camera-equipped flexible instrument, the sigmoidoscope. The indications for this procedure are many, including evaluation of gastrointestinal bleeding, pain, diarrhea, inflammatory bowel disease and very commonly, to evaluate for colon polyps or colon cancer. Flexible sigmoidoscopy is one of several currently recommend screening modalities for colon cancer detection. Colon cancer is currently the second leading cause of all cancer-related deaths in the U.S.
What to expect during the procedure
What happens before your procedure?
At either the Endoscopy Center of Colorado Springs, or at Penrose if your insurance requires you to have your procedure there, you will be registered as a patient, will be given a consent form to read and to sign, and will have the opportunity to ask the nurse and doctor questions. You will be instructed to arrive 1 hour before your scheduled procedure time in order to properly prepare for the procedure.
What happens during the procedure?
The instrument will be inserted through the rectum and guided to the beginning of the colon. Your physician may instill water or air into the colon to help with visualization. Sedation is not typically given for this procedure.
Areas of abnormal tissue will be biopsied, and photos of the areas will be obtained and reviewed with you.
Polyps are commonly seen during colonoscopy and your physician employs a variety of techniques to biopsy and remove these lesions during your exam. If a polypectomy is performed, your physician will go over this with you afterwards and remind you not to take aspirin or NSAIDs for several days afterward.
What happens after your procedure?
After your procedure, you will be monitored and allowed to recover from the sedation. This typically takes 30 minutes to one hour. Your abdomen may be a little sore for a while, and you may feel bloating or cramping right after the procedure because of air introduced into your colon during the test.
With rare exceptions, most patients can resume a normal diet immediately afterwards.
You will go home with a copy of your procedure report, and your referring physician will receive a copy in the mail usually within one week.
What is the difference between a sigmoidoscopy and a colonoscopy?
While most people have heard of a colonoscopy, the term sigmoidoscopy is less common. Yet, both can be used to examine the colon and screen for cancer, and both have similar preparation requirements.
So, what’s the difference between a colonoscopy and a flexible sigmoidoscopy?
A colonoscopy uses a scope that is long enough for a gastroenterologist to view your entire colon. This makes the procedure for a colonoscopy more thorough and more time intensive.
A sigmoidoscopy uses a different type of scope – a sigmoidoscope – that is only long enough to view your rectum and lower colon. Because a sigmoidoscopy is a less involved procedure than a colonoscopy, sedation is not usually needed, resulting in a quicker recovery.
Why have a sigmoidoscopy instead of a colonoscopy?
You might have a sigmoidoscopy instead of a colonoscopy because the test, and the test preparation, generally take less time. Where a colonoscopy usually takes at least 30 minutes, a sigmoidoscopy may take only 15 minutes. You also don’t usually need sedation for a sigmoidoscopy. That means you can leave right after the exam and don’t need a friend or family member to drive you home.
Because the sigmoidoscopy is not as extensive, that also means a lower risk of complications when compared with a colonoscopy.
Is a sigmoidoscopy as good as a colonoscopy?
The reasons for having a colonoscopy or a sigmoidoscopy are largely the same. Both are used to help screen for colon polyps as well as colon and rectal cancer. Both can also be used to help determine the cause if you are experiencing concerning symptoms. Those could include bleeding from your anus, changes in bowel movements, pain in your abdomen or unexplained weight loss.
However, the sigmoidoscopy is not as extensive or thorough as a colonoscopy. A sigmoidoscopy allows your doctor to view your rectum and lower colon, up to your transverse colon. It allows your doctor to perform biopsies and to detect, and in some cases remove, polyps. However, your doctor may recommend a colonoscopy instead if you need a full exam of the entire length of your colon. Your doctor may also recommend a colonoscopy after a sigmoidoscopy if the sigmoidoscopy identifies concerns.
How painful is a sigmoidoscopy?
You may experience mild discomfort during the sigmoidoscopy, but you’re unlikely to need sedation or pain medications.
During the exam, you may feel the urge to have a bowel movement as the scope is inserted through your anus and guided into your colon. You may also experience some abdominal cramping as air is pumped through the scope into your large intestine. The cramping, along with a feeling of bloating, may last for an hour after your exam is complete.
If your doctor finds abnormal tissue and needs to perform a biopsy, you shouldn’t feel uncomfortable during the biopsy. Light bleeding is normal after a biopsy, or if a polyp is removed during the exam.You should alert your doctor if you experience severe abdominal pain, fever or unexpected bleeding following a sigmoidoscopy.
Are you awake during a sigmoidoscopy?
You are awake during a sigmoidoscopy. In fact, the exam is so quick and painless, you will likely need no sedation or even pain medication.
Your doctor will ask you to lie on your side while the sigmoidoscope is inserted into your anus and guided through your rectum and lower colon. You may be asked to move during the exam for better positioning of the scope.
How long does a sigmoidoscopy last?
The sigmoidoscopy exam itself generally takes 15 to 20 minutes. If your doctor needs to take biopsies or remove polyps, it may require additional time.
Before your sigmoidoscopy, you will need time to prepare for the exam. Your colon needs to be cleared out for your doctor to clearly see the lining of your intestine during the sigmoidoscopy. You will be asked to follow a special diet and follow bowel prep instructions the day before the exam.
What are the possible complications of a flexible sigmoidoscopy?
Flexible sigmoidoscopy is generally safe and complications are rare when the test is performed by a Board-certified gastroenterologist.
Irritation may occur at the vein where medications were given, sometimes leaving a tender lump lasting for several weeks. Applying hot moist towels may help relieve discomfort.
There is a small risk that biopsies or removal of polyps will cause bleeding which could require transfusions. You should take no aspirin, arthritis pills (other than acetaminophen/Tylenol), or other blood thinners for a period of time after biopsies or polypectomy. Your physician will inform you when you can resume these types of medications.
Rarely, a tear in the wall of the colon could require hospitalization, emergency surgery, or even death. Also, there is a small possibility of a splenic tear or rupture.
North Location – St. Francis Medical Campus – St. Peregrine Pavillion
6031 E Woodmen Rd #100
Colorado Springs, CO, 80923
Central Location – Audubon Medical Campus
2940 N. Circle Drive
Colorado Springs, CO, 80909
Endoscopy Centers of Colorado Springs – Audubon Medical Campus
2940 North Circle Drive
Colorado Springs, CO, 80909
Endoscopy Centers of Colorado Springs – St. Francis Medical Campus – St. Peregrine Pavillion
6031 E Woodmen Rd #100
Colorado Springs, CO, 80923