Flexible Sigmoidoscopy: A Vital Tool for Colorectal Health


In colorectal diagnostics and preventive medicine, flexible sigmoidoscopy is a pivotal procedure. This minimally invasive examination allows gastroenterologists to directly visualize the interior of the lower part of the colon, specifically the sigmoid colon and rectum, which are common sites for early signs of colorectal cancer and polyps, as well as other gastrointestinal diseases like ulcerative colitis

Colorectal cancer remains one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths worldwide, yet it’s among the most preventable cancers when detected early. This underscores the importance of procedures like flexible sigmoidoscopy, which can identify precancerous growths known as polyps before developing into malignant tumors. Beyond cancer screening, flexible sigmoidoscopy provides valuable insights into symptoms such as unexplained bowel habit changes, rectal bleeding, abdominal pain, and weight loss, facilitating accurate diagnoses and tailored treatment plans. 

As we delve into the preparatory steps, procedural details, and post-procedure expectations of flexible sigmoidoscopy, it’s clear that this procedure is a cornerstone of modern gastroenterology, empowering patients and physicians alike in the quest for optimal colorectal health.

Preparing for Your Flexible Sigmoidoscopy: Ensuring Clarity and Comfort

Preparation for a flexible sigmoidoscopy is as much about ensuring the clarity of the visual field as it is about patient comfort. The goal is to completely clear the lower bowel of stool, allowing for an unobstructed view of the colon’s lining. This process typically involves a combination of dietary restrictions, bowel cleansing regimens, and medication adjustments. 

Patients are advised to follow a clear liquid diet for 24 to 48 hours before the procedure, avoiding solid foods, dairy products, and colored liquids. Laxatives, either in pill or liquid form, are prescribed to clear the bowel. Sometimes, an enema is administered a few hours before the procedure to ensure the rectum and lower colon are empty.

Medication management is a critical aspect of preparation. Patients must discuss all medications and supplements with their healthcare provider, as some, particularly those affecting blood clotting or blood sugar levels, may need to be paused or adjusted. This careful coordination ensures not only the efficacy of the sigmoidoscopy but also the safety of the patient.

Arranging for transportation post-procedure is essential, even though sedation may not always be used. If sedation is administered, it impairs the ability to drive, making it unsafe for patients to operate vehicles. Understanding the sedation process can also alleviate anxiety; knowing that discomfort is minimized and that you will be in a state of relaxed awareness helps in mentally preparing for the procedure.

During the Procedure: A Step-by-Step Journey Through Flexible Sigmoidoscopy

The process of undergoing a flexible sigmoidoscopy is a testament to the precision and care embedded in modern gastroenterology. This detailed exploration clarifies what patients can expect during the procedure, emphasizing the seamless integration of advanced medical technology with patient comfort and safety.

Initial Setup and Sedation

Upon entering the procedure room, patients are greeted by a medical team that includes the gastroenterologist, nurses, anesthetists, and a technician. The team’s priority is ensuring the patient’s comfort and readiness. Although sedation for flexible sigmoidoscopy isn’t always necessary, it may be offered to help relax the patient. If sedation is used, it’s administered intravenously, and its effects are closely monitored throughout the procedure. The patient lies on the left side with knees drawn toward the chest, facilitating easy access to the sigmoid colon.

Insertion of the Sigmoidoscope

The procedure’s core begins with gently inserting the sigmoidoscope into the rectum. This flexible tube, equipped with a light and a camera, is carefully navigated through the lower part of the colon. The camera sends real-time images to a monitor, allowing the gastroenterologist to closely inspect the mucosal lining of the sigmoid colon and rectum for any signs of abnormalities or disease.

Insufflation of Air

The doctor introduces air through the sigmoidoscope to inflate the colon to improve visibility and allow for a thorough examination. This expansion might cause a feeling of pressure or mild discomfort akin to the sensation of needing to pass gas. It’s a normal part of the procedure and is essential for providing a clear view of the colon’s interior.

Visual Inspection and Biopsies

As the sigmoidoscope advances, the doctor examines the monitor for polyps, lesions, or other abnormalities. The high-resolution images can reveal details that are crucial for diagnosis. If suspicious areas are identified, the doctor can use specialized instruments passed through the sigmoidoscope to take tissue samples (biopsies). These samples are later analyzed in a lab to determine the presence of conditions such as inflammation, cancer, or precancerous changes.

Polyp Removal

One significant advantage of flexible sigmoidoscopy is the ability to detect and remove polyps during the same procedure. Polyps are growths on the colon’s lining that can turn into cancer. Using tiny tools inserted through the sigmoidoscope, the doctor can snip or cauterize these polyps, significantly reducing the risk of colorectal cancer.

Procedure Duration

The duration of a flexible sigmoidoscopy can vary but typically lasts about 15 to 30 minutes. The length may extend if biopsies are taken or polyps are removed. The patient’s vital signs are monitored throughout the procedure to ensure their well-being.

Completion and Recovery

Once the examination is complete, the sigmoidoscope is slowly withdrawn. The introduced air begins to dissipate, and any discomfort usually subsides quickly. Patients are then taken to a recovery area, mainly if sedation was used, where they remain under observation until the effects of the sedation wear off and they are deemed ready to go home.

Throughout the flexible sigmoidoscopy, the focus on patient safety, comfort, and the provision of critical health insights exemplifies the procedure’s role in preventative health care. This detailed journey through the procedure underscores the sophistication and patient-centered approach characteristic of today’s gastroenterological practices, ensuring that patients are well-informed and well-cared for during their flexible sigmoidoscopy experience.

After the Procedure: Navigating Recovery and Understanding Results

Completing a flexible sigmoidoscopy marks the beginning of the recovery phase, a period crucial for ensuring patient comfort and understanding of the procedure’s findings. Here’s an expanded look at what patients can expect during this time, emphasizing the straightforward nature of the recovery process and the importance of the results.

Immediate Post-Procedure Care

Immediately after the flexible sigmoidoscopy, patients are taken to a recovery area, especially if sedatives are administered. Here, medical staff closely monitor the patient’s vital signs and overall condition as the effects of the sedation wear off. Most patients find that any sedative grogginess dissipates relatively quickly, allowing them to regain full alertness within an hour after the procedure. For those who did not receive sedation, the recovery period might be even shorter, with many feeling ready to leave shortly after the procedure is completed.

Managing Post-Procedure Sensations

It’s common to experience mild cramping or a sensation of bloating following a flexible sigmoidoscopy due to the air introduced into the colon during the examination. These sensations are generally temporary and subside as the air is expelled naturally. Patients are encouraged to walk around, as this can help release any trapped air and alleviate discomfort more quickly.

Resuming Normal Activities

One of the advantages of flexible sigmoidoscopy is the minimal impact it has on post-procedure activity. Most patients can resume their regular diet and activities on the same day as their procedure. However, your doctor will provide specific guidance based on your case, including any temporary restrictions. If biopsies were taken or if any polyps were removed, additional instructions regarding medication or activity levels might be given to ensure proper healing.

Understanding and Discussing Results

Preliminary results from the flexible sigmoidoscopy can often be discussed immediately after the procedure, with your doctor explaining any findings and what they might mean for your health. If biopsies were performed, it may take a few days to a week for those results to come back from the laboratory. A follow-up appointment is usually scheduled to discuss these results in detail, allowing for a comprehensive review of what was discovered and the implications for your health.

This follow-up discussion is crucial, as it may determine the need for further testing, surveillance, or treatment. Conditions such as polyps, benign tumors, or signs of inflammation can dictate the next steps in your healthcare plan, whether that involves routine monitoring, medication, or potentially more invasive procedures for treatment.

Long-Term Care and Surveillance

Depending on the findings from your flexible sigmoidoscopy, your doctor may recommend a schedule for future screenings. This is particularly true if polyps were found and removed, as you may be at a higher risk for colorectal cancer. Adhering to these recommendations is vital for ongoing health and prevention.

Conclusion: Moving Forward with Confidence at Colon & Digestive Health Specialists

Recovery from a flexible sigmoidoscopy is straightforward, allowing a swift return to daily activities while providing essential insights into colorectal health. This procedure is a cornerstone of preventive health care, highlighting the importance of regular screenings for maintaining gastrointestinal wellness.

Our commitment to patient-centered care is paramount at Colon & Digestive Health Specialists, located at 1805 Honey Creek Commons, Ste B, Conyers, GA 30013. Led by our experienced gastroenterology team, we ensure every procedure, including flexible sigmoidoscopy, is performed with precision and care, prioritizing patient comfort and information.

For more information or to discuss your sigmoidoscopy results and next steps, contact us at (770) 922-7000 or visit www.colondigestive.com. Serving Conyers, GA, we’re dedicated to guiding you toward optimal colorectal health with expert care.