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What to Expect from Flexible Sigmoidoscopy

Flexible sigmoidoscopy is a test that lets your health care provider examine the lining of the rectum and a part of the colon (large intestine or large bowel). It can be performed in a health care provider’s office or in a clinic or hospital.

A flexible tube about the thickness of your finger is put into the anus and slowly moved into the rectum and lower part of the colon. Your health care provider can view the area looking through the eyepiece of the tube. Sometimes, he may use a special variation of the tube to allow him to see a picture on a TV screen.

Before the Test
You will need to clean out your bowel before the test. Your health care provider will tell you what to use.

In general, this preparation consists of having one or two enemas, but could also include taking laxatives. You may also be asked to make some changes in your diet before the test. Because the rectum and lower colon must be completely empty for the test to be accurate, it’s important to follow your health care provider's instructions carefully.

Let your health care provider know what medications you’re taking. While most medications can be continued as usual, you may be asked to stop taking your medications before the test.

During the Test
You might have a feeling of pressure, bloating or cramping during flexible sigmoidoscopy. You will have a drape on from your waist down and will lie on your side while your health care provider moves the sigmoidoscope through the rectum and colon. The tube examines the lower part of your colon. As your health care provider slowly removes the instrument, he will carefully examine the lining of the intestine.

If your health care provider sees an area that needs further testing, he might take a biopsy (sample of the colon lining) to be examined under a microscope. Biopsies are used to identify many conditions.

If your health care provider finds polyps (growths on the lining of the colon), he might take a biopsy of them, as well. A biopsy is taken to determine the type of polyp and to find out if cancer is present. Your health care provider might ask you to have a colonoscopy (a complete examination of the colon) to remove any small or large polyps before they become cancer.

After the Test
Your health care provider will explain the results to you when the test is finished. You might feel bloated or some mild cramping because of the air that was passed into the colon during the examination. This will disappear quickly when you pass gas. You should be able to eat and begin your normal activities after leaving your health care provider's office or the hospital.

Complications of Flexible Sigmoidoscopy
Flexible sigmoidoscopy and biopsy are safe when performed by doctors who are specially trained and experienced in these procedures. Complications or problems are rare, but it's important for you to recognize early signs of problems. Contact your health care provider if you notice severe stomach pain, fevers and chills, or rectal bleeding of more than one-quarter of a cup. Remember that rectal bleeding can occur several days after a biopsy.

Source: Information provided by the Cancer Research Foundation of America, Founders of National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.

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