Sigmoidoscopy (SIG-moy-DAH-skuh-pee) enables a clinician to look at the inside of the large intestine from the rectum through the last part of a section of the colon, called the sigmoid colon. Clinicians may use this procedure to find the cause of diarrhea, abdominal pain, or constipation. They also use sigmoidoscopy to look for early signs of cancer in the colon and rectum. With sigmoidoscopy, the clinician can see bleeding, inflammation, abnormal growths, and ulcers.

The procedure is usually performed in a medical office where you will lie on your left side on the examining table. The clinician will insert a short, flexible, lighted tube into your rectum and slowly guide it into your colon. The tube is called a sigmoidoscope (sig-MOY-duh-skope). The scope transmits an image of the inside of the rectum and colon, so the clinician can carefully examine the lining of these organs. The scope also blows air into these organs, which inflates them and helps to see better. The entire procedure lasts 10-30 minutes and you can return home after it is complete.

If anything unusual is in your rectum or colon, like a polyp or inflamed tissue, the clinician can remove a piece of it using instruments inserted into the scope. Polyps are small growths on the lining of the colon, which can be signs of cancer or future cancers. The clinician will send that piece of tissue called a biopsy to the lab for testing.

What Is the Preparation?

The colon and rectum must be completely empty for sigmoidoscopy to be thorough and safe, so your health care provider will probably tell you to drink only clear liquids for 12 to 24 hours beforehand. The night before or right before the procedure, you may also be given an enema, which is a liquid solution that washes out the intestines. Your physician may give you other special instructions. Remember, if the preparation is not completed properly the clinician may not be able to see the walls of the colon and the procedure may need to be rescheduled.

What Are Potential Complications?

Bleeding and puncture of the colon are possible complications of sigmoidoscopy. However, such complications are uncommon.

Things to Remember

  • Make sure you complete your pre-procedure preparation as directed to ensure the sigmoidoscopy is successful. Poor preparation may lead to repeating the procedure.

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