When To Use a Flexible Sigmoidoscopy?

December 7, 2023

Understanding the Basics of Flexible Sigmoidoscopies

A Flexible Sigmoidoscopy is a diagnostic procedure that allows doctors to examine the inner lining of the rectum and a portion of the colon (sigmoid colon) for signs of gastrointestinal issues such as colorectal cancer or polyps. 

The procedure involves using a thin, flexible tube known as a sigmoidoscope equipped with a tiny camera at its tip. It provides real-time images of the gastrointestinal tract and aids in detecting abnormalities. This non-surgical, minimally invasive technique can be performed quickly, usually requires minimal preparation, and patients often resume their regular activities shortly after.

Identifying Symptoms That May Warrant a Flexible Sigmoidoscopy

Several symptoms might indicate the need for a Flexible Sigmoidoscopy. These include but are not limited to, chronic diarrhea or constipation, unexplained weight loss, abdominal pain or bloating, and rectal bleeding or blood in the stool. In some cases, it may also be recommended as part of routine screening for colorectal cancer, particularly for individuals over the age of 50 or those with a family history of the disease. However, any persistent change in bowel habits or other symptoms should warrant a discussion with your healthcare provider about whether a flexible sigmoidoscopy or other diagnostic procedures may be necessary.

Preparing for a Flexible Sigmoidoscopy

Before undergoing a Flexible Sigmoidoscopy, your doctor will provide specific instructions to ensure your lower bowel is completely clear, as any residue can obscure the view and make it difficult to identify abnormalities accurately. This typically involves a process known as bowel prep, which may require you to follow a special diet and take laxatives. You might also need to use enemas.

The day before the procedure, you’ll likely be advised to consume only clear liquids, such as broths, tea, coffee, clear fruit juices, and gelatin desserts. Solid foods, dairy products, and anything containing red or purple dye are usually avoided. On the day of the procedure, it’s generally recommended to abstain from eating and drinking until after the Sigmoidoscopy. Certain medications may need to be adjusted or temporarily discontinued, mainly if they affect blood clotting. Always discuss your current medications and any concerns you may have with your healthcare provider well before the procedure.

Performing a Flexible Sigmoidoscopy

During a Flexible Sigmoidoscopy, you will be asked to lie on your left side with your knees drawn up towards your chest. A sigmoidoscope is gently inserted into your rectum and slowly guided into your colon. The device pumps air into your colon to inflate it slightly and allow for a clearer view of the colon lining. As the sigmoidoscope is withdrawn, your doctor examines the lining of your colon. If any abnormal tissue or polyps are located, they can be removed during the procedure for further testing. The procedure generally takes 15 to 20 minutes and is typically not painful, although you may feel some discomfort or pressure. Sedation is usually unnecessary for a Flexible Sigmoidoscopy, but you may opt for a mild sedative if you feel anxious about the procedure. After the procedure, your healthcare provider will talk with you and, if necessary, recommend additional tests or treatments.

Aftercare Following a Flexible Sigmoidoscopy

After the procedure, you may feel bloated or have mild abdominal cramping due to the air introduced into your colon. These sensations should subside once you pass gas. If sedation is used, you may feel groggy and will need someone to drive you home, as you shouldn’t operate vehicles or machinery for the rest of the day.

Unless your doctor advises otherwise, it’s generally safe to eat and drink normally after the procedure. You should also be able to return to your regular activities the following day.

However, if you experience severe abdominal pain, heavy rectal bleeding, fever, or dizziness, you should seek immediate medical attention as these could indicate complications such as perforation or bleeding.

Remember, early detection and treatment of colorectal conditions can significantly improve outcomes. So, following your healthcare provider’s instructions and recommendations regarding follow-up appointments and any necessary additional testing or treatments is essential.

Potential Complications and Risks Associated With Flexible Sigmoidoscopies

Like any medical procedure, Flexible Sigmoidoscopy is not without its risks, although complications are relatively rare. The most common side effect is mild discomfort during or after the procedure, primarily due to the introduction of air into the colon. In sporadic cases, a perforation or small tear in the colon’s wall may occur, which can require surgical repair.

Bleeding may also occur at the site where a biopsy was taken, or a polyp was removed. Although this usually stops on its own, in some cases, it might require additional treatment.

Other potential risks include reactions to the sedative used (if any), heart or lung problems (caused by the sedative), and, though exceptionally rare, a missed polyp or cancer.

However, it’s important to remember that the risk of these complications generally outweighs the benefits of detecting colorectal conditions early. As always, discuss any concerns or questions with your healthcare provider.

To learn more, contact your healthcare provider as soon as possible or set up an appointment with the GI Specialists at Gastro Florida.