Due to the success of colon cancer awareness campaigns in recent years, most people know that routine colonoscopy screenings can detect early signs of colon cancer. But you may not know about a similar procedure called a flexible sigmoidoscopy. What is this procedure? How does it differ from a colonoscopy?
What is a flexible sigmoidoscopy?
A flexible sigmoidoscopy is an endoscopic procedure used to inspect the rectum and the lower (sigmoid) colon from the inside. Your doctor will use an endoscope that is comprised of a flexible, thin tube with a tiny camera attached at the end. The procedure is similar to a colonoscopy, but it doesn’t take as long because it only examines the last 2 feet of the colon.
When might a person need a flexible sigmoidoscopy?
If you’re experiencing rectal bleeding, chronic diarrhea, abdominal pain, changes in bowel habits, unexplained weight loss, or other intestinal symptoms, flexible sigmoidoscopy may help your physician determine a diagnosis. Depending on your individual circumstances, a sigmoidoscopy may also be used to screen for colorectal cancer.
Why have a sigmoidoscopy instead of a colonoscopy?
A flexible sigmoidoscopy is less invasive than a screening colonoscopy because it doesn’t examine the entire colon, only the last part. However, you should be aware that sigmoidoscopies are recommended once every 5 years when used for colon cancer screening (instead of a colonoscopy every 10 years).
During the procedure, your physician will be looking for polyps (possibly pre-cancerous clumps of cells) or any other abnormal indications. If polyps are detected in your lower colon during the sigmoidoscopy, you will most likely need a colonoscopy next in order to allow your gastroenterologist to examine the length of your entire colon for additional abnormalities.
Is a flexible sigmoidoscopy painful?
No, but it might be a bit uncomfortable. Because it is not as involved as a colonoscopy and only takes about 15 minutes to complete, you most likely will not require any kind of anesthesia during the procedure.
You also may experience some mild cramping or bloating during the, but these symptoms are entirely normal and you should be able to immediately go back to your normal schedule after completion of the sigmoidoscopy.
What kind of sedation is used for a flexible sigmoidoscopy?
Generally, sedation is not used during a sigmoidoscopy. If you have adverse reactions to anesthesia, a flexible sigmoidoscopy might be your best option to screen for colon cancer instead of a traditional colonoscopy, which requires anesthesia.
Can I eat before a sigmoidoscopy?
No, eating before a sigmoidoscopy is not advised. To get the best results, your stomach and intestines should be completely empty before the procedure, which means you shouldn’t eat for 12-24 hours before your sigmoidoscopy. Clear liquids like water, broth, sports drinks, and black coffee are acceptable instead, but follow your gastroenterologist’s instructions about when to discontinue those before your procedure begins (usually somewhere between 4 and 8 hours before procedure start time).
You will also need to do some sort of bowel prep to effectively clean out your colon before the procedure begins. You may be advised to prepare by taking a laxative (in liquid, pill, or powder form) or by using enemas. Different physicians use different methods, so closely follow the instructions you are given to ensure that your colon is adequately empty. Otherwise, your gastroenterologist will not be able to view the inside of your bowel, and the procedure may be rescheduled for a different day.
It is also important to discuss all of your medications (prescription and over-the-counter) with your doctor when scheduling the flexible sigmoidoscopy to find out what you should and shouldn’t take before the procedure. Be sure to mention if you take iron, are on blood thinners, or take medicine for diabetes.
The Digestive Health Centers of Texas are Here for You!
At the Digestive Health Centers of Texas, our fellowship-trained, board-certified gastroenterologists can perform a flexible sigmoidoscopy, or you can undergo one of our other minimally invasive endoscopic procedures to find out why you’re experiencing troubling digestive symptoms.
If you are due for colon cancer screening or are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, contact us today.