Flexible Sigmoidoscopy: Learn About This Procedure

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A flexible sigmoidoscopy examines the rectum and large intestine using a flexible sigmoidoscope, which has a tiny camera on the end. 

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The procedure can:

  • Obtain tissue samples for testing
  • Identify the cause of rectal bleeding, diarrhea, constipation, lower abdominal pain or inflammation
  • Detect the presence of or remove polyps (small growths than can turn cancerous)
  • Monitor response to inflammatory bowel disease treatment 
  • Screen for colorectal cancer

Complications, though rare, could include bleeding or the puncture of the bowel wall. 

The Flexible Sigmoidoscopy Procedure

Sedation & Pain

This procedure may cause:

  • Discomfort
  • Cramping
  • Muscle spasms
  • Lower abdominal pain
  • The urge to move your bowels

Your doctor may sedate you to decrease discomfort. 

After the procedure, gas pains and cramping may occur but will go away with the passing of gas.

The Procedure

You will be positioned either on your left side with knees bent and drawn up toward your chest, on your back with your feet in stirrups, or on a special table.

After a rectal exam, the lubricated sigmoidoscope will slowly go into your rectum, pass through the rectum and into your colon. It will inject air into the colon to widen the passage and make it easier to see. As the scope moves along, the doctor will watch for any abnormalities and may remove tissue samples or polyps. 

Cause for Concern

After arriving home, contact your doctor the following occur:

  • Bleeding from your rectum
  • Black, tarry stools
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Hard, swollen abdomen
  • Signs of infection, including fever or chills
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Inability to pass gas or stool
  • Chest pain or trouble breathing

In case of an emergency, call for medical help right away. 


Call 434.243.3090 


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.