Digestive Health

Updated 07 August 2014

Flexible sigmoidoscopy

Flexible sigmoidoscopy enables the physician to look at the inside of the large intestine from the rectum through the last part of the colon.


Flexible sigmoidoscopy enables the physician to look at the inside of the large intestine from the rectum through the last part of the colon, called the sigmoid or descending colon. Physicians may use the procedure to find the cause of diarrhoea, abdominal pain, or constipation. They also use it to look for early signs of cancer in the descending colon and rectum. With flexible sigmoidoscopy, the physician can see bleeding, inflammation, abnormal growths, and ulcers in the descending colon and rectum. Flexible sigmoidoscopy is not sufficient to detect polyps or cancer in the ascending or transverse colon (two-thirds of the colon).

For the procedure, you will lie on your left side on the examining table. The physician will insert a short, flexible, lighted tube into your rectum and slowly guide it into your colon. The tube is called a sigmoidoscope. The scope transmits an image of the inside of the rectum and colon, so the physician can carefully examine the lining of these organs. The scope also blows air into these organs, which inflates them and helps the physician see better.

If anything unusual is in your rectum or colon, like a polyp or inflamed tissue, the physician can remove a piece of it using instruments inserted into the scope. The physician will send that piece of tissue (biopsy) to the lab for testing.

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

Flexible sigmoidoscopy takes 10 to 20 minutes. During the procedure, you might feel pressure and slight cramping in your lower abdomen. You will feel better afterward when the air leaves your colon.

The colon and rectum must be completely empty for flexible sigmoidoscopy to be thorough and safe, so the physician will probably tell you to drink only clear liquids for 12 to 24 hours beforehand. A liquid diet means fat-free bouillon or broth, gelatine, strained fruit juice, water, plain coffee, plain tea, or diet soda. 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.

Source: National Digestive Disease Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC)


Read Health24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Ask the Expert

Digestive Health Expert

Dr. Estelle Wilken is a Senior Specialist in Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology at Tygerberg Hospital. She obtained her MBChB in 1976, her MMed (Int) in 1991 and her gastroenterology registration in 1995.

Still have a question?

Get free advice from our panel of experts

The information provided does not constitute a diagnosis of your condition. You should consult a medical practitioner or other appropriate health care professional for a physical exmanication, diagnosis and formal advice. Health24 and the expert accept no responsibility or liability for any damage or personal harm you may suffer resulting from making use of this content.

* You must accept our condition

Forum Rules