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  • Understanding Sigmoidoscopy: A Comprehensive Guide to the Procedure and Benefits

Did you know that colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer worldwide? Early detection through medical procedures like sigmoidoscopy can significantly improve treatment outcomes and save lives. In this comprehensive guide, we will walk you through the ins and outs of sigmoidoscopy, its role in colorectal cancer screening, and how this procedure can help detect issues in the lower colon.

Embarking on a journey to better understand sigmoidoscopy will not only help you make informed decisions about your health but also empower you to take control of your preventive healthcare. So, are you ready to unlock the mysteries of sigmoidoscopy? Let’s get started!

Key Takeaways

  • Sigmoidoscopy is a diagnostic procedure used to examine the lower part of the colon, aiding in colorectal cancer screening.

  • Preparation steps such as diet and medication management should be taken prior to undergoing sigmoidoscopy for optimal results.

  • Leveraging sigmoidoscopy as a preventive measure can help detect early signs of colorectal cancer. Regular screening should begin at age 45 for those at average risk.

Decoding Sigmoidoscopy: What Exactly Is It?

Illustration of a flexible sigmoidoscopy procedure

Sigmoidoscopy is a diagnostic procedure that examines the lower part of your colon, specifically the sigmoid colon and descending colon, helping to identify issues such as polyps, tumors, and inflammation. During the procedure, a thin flexible tube called a sigmoidoscope, equipped with a tiny light and camera, is inserted into the rectum and advanced into the lower colon. This allows the doctor to visualize the intestinal lining and, if needed, collect tissue samples for further examination.

A doctor specializing in the digestive system typically performs sigmoidoscopy. However, it may also be conducted by:

  • a surgeon

  • a family practice doctor

  • a physician assistant

  • a nurse practitioner

This procedure is particularly useful in detecting colon and rectal cancer, as well as other growths in the left side of the entire colon, identifying rectal bleeding causes, and obtaining a tissue sample for further analysis.

The Role of Sigmoidoscopy in Colorectal Cancer Screening

Illustration of colorectal cancer screening

Sigmoidoscopy has a significant role in colorectal cancer screening. It assists in identifying early signs of cancer, helping to prevent its progression. While it only examines the lower portion of the colon, unlike colonoscopy, which surveys the entire large intestine, sigmoidoscopy is an essential screening tool for detecting issues specifically in the lower colon and rectum.

For individuals with an average risk for colon cancer, there are multiple screening options. One such option is a flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years or every 10 years. Additionally, stool testing with FIT should be done annually. Incorporating sigmoidoscopy into a regular screening routine allows you to be proactive about your health and detect any problems early on.

Preparation Steps for a Successful Sigmoidoscopy

Correct preparation for sigmoidoscopy is necessary to guarantee precise results. The necessary steps such as dietary adjustments, bowel cleansing, and medication management will be discussed below.

Diet and Bowel Prep

A special diet and bowel prep are necessary to clear the colon for better visibility during the procedure. Prior to a sigmoidoscopy, it is typically recommended to follow a clear liquid diet, avoiding solid foods and only consuming clear liquids such as light-colored Jell-O (no red or purple), clear juice, Kool-Aid, clear vegetable, chicken or beef broth, and sports drinks. This helps ensure that the colon is clear for the procedure.

Dietary changes for a sigmoidoscopy are typically initiated the day before the exam. It is important to adhere to the specific instructions provided by your healthcare provider and avoid liquids with red or purple dye, as they can appear as blood in the colon.

Medication Management

Before undergoing sigmoidoscopy, it’s important to manage your medications and inform your healthcare provider about any allergies or supplements. The medications that should be discontinued prior to a sigmoidoscopy may differ depending on the individual and their medical situation. You need to consult with your physician at least a week before the sigmoidoscopy to discuss any medications and required adjustments.

In some cases, anti-coagulant medication may need to be halted prior to sigmoidoscopy, depending on the particular medication. It is suggested to seek advice from a healthcare professional for further direction.

The Sigmoidoscopy Experience: Procedure Insights

Illustration of the sigmoidoscopy procedure insights

This section provides insights into the sigmoidoscopy procedure, including what to expect during and after the test, to help you feel prepared and comfortable.

During the Procedure

The procedure involves inserting a sigmoidoscope into the rectum and advancing it slowly through the lower colon. Air is then insufflated into the colon to expand it for better visualization. Mild discomfort is a possibility during the procedure, and it is not uncommon to experience brief muscle spasms and lower abdominal pain, especially during a bowel movement. Deep breathing can be a great way to reduce distress while the tube is being inserted. Taking consistent deep breaths throughout the procedure can help manage any discomfort.

If you experience pain during sigmoidoscopy, it is advised to inform your doctor. It’s crucial to maintain an open dialogue with your healthcare provider to ensure a smooth and stress-free experience.

Post-Procedure Expectations

After the procedure, patients may experience gas, bloating, and mild bleeding. These side effects are typically short-lived, as the air injected into the colon is released, and bleeding should cease within a day or so. It is important to keep an eye on any persistent bleeding, the formation of blood clots, abdominal pain, dizziness, weakness, or a fever of 100 F (37.8 C), and contact your doctor if these symptoms occur.

In most cases, patients can resume their normal diet and activities after the procedure, unless instructed otherwise by their doctor.

Identifying Health Concerns: Interpreting Results

Illustration of interpreting sigmoidoscopy results

Interpreting sigmoidoscopy results aids in identifying possible health concerns and establishing the need for further testing or treatment. A typical sigmoidoscopy test result indicates:

  • No abnormalities in the hue, consistency, and dimensions of the sigmoid colon

  • No abnormalities in the rectal mucosa

  • No abnormalities in the rectum

  • No abnormalities in the anus

However, a sigmoidoscopy may reveal the following conditions:

  • Anal fissures

  • Anorectal abscesses

  • Polyps

  • Abnormal tissue in the colon

  • Hemorrhoids

  • Rectal cancers

  • Diverticula

  • Crohn’s colitis

  • Ulcerative colitis

  • Pseudomembranous colitis

In such cases, your doctor may recommend additional steps, such as a colonoscopy or fecal occult blood test, to provide a comprehensive evaluation of the colon and detect any potential abnormalities not visible during the sigmoidoscopy.

Potential Complications and How to Address Them

Illustration of potential sigmoidoscopy complications

Recognizing potential complications of sigmoidoscopy, such as bowel perforation and bleeding, is vital to ensure a safe and successful procedure. Some potential complications may include post-biopsy bleeding, inflammation of the abdominal lining, and an infrequent perforation of the intestinal wall.

If you have any concerns regarding the potential risks of sigmoidoscopy, it is important to consult your healthcare provider to address these concerns prior to undergoing the procedure. Open communication with your doctor will help you make informed decisions and feel more at ease about the process.

Comparing Sigmoidoscopy to Other Tests

Although sigmoidoscopy is a vital diagnostic tool for lower colon problems, understanding how it compares to other diagnostic tests like colonoscopy is necessary. Sigmoidoscopy only examines the lower portion of the colon, while colonoscopy surveys the entire large intestine. However, sigmoidoscopy is generally less invasive and requires less complex preparation than colonoscopy.

In terms of diagnostic accuracy, colonoscopy is generally deemed more accurate than sigmoidoscopy in diagnosing colorectal conditions. Nevertheless, sigmoidoscopy may still be a beneficial screening tool, particularly for detecting early changes in the distal colon.

When Your Doctor Recommends Further Action

If your doctor advises further action based on your sigmoidoscopy results, it’s important to heed their advice and take the necessary steps for additional testing or treatment. Some reasons for your physician to suggest additional steps after a sigmoidoscopy include:

  • Evaluating the presence of polyps

  • Examining a biopsy sample

  • Identifying the cause of bowel problems or modifications in bowel habits

  • Eliminating other possible ailments or diseases

Following your doctor’s advice and taking the appropriate actions can guarantee the best possible outcomes for your health. It is crucial not to overlook any concerning symptoms or test results and to stay proactive in addressing any potential health concerns.

Leveraging Sigmoidoscopy as a Preventive Measure

The emphasis on the importance of sigmoidoscopy as a preventive measure for colorectal cancer and other lower colon problems is vital. Sigmoidoscopy is a significant preventive measure for colorectal cancer and other lower colon conditions. Incorporating sigmoidoscopy into a regular screening routine can help in the early detection of colorectal cancer and improve treatment outcomes.

The American Cancer Society suggests that regular screening should begin at age 45 for those at average risk. Staying proactive about your health and incorporating sigmoidoscopy into your preventive healthcare routine allows early detection of potential issues.


In conclusion, understanding sigmoidoscopy and its role in colorectal cancer screening and lower colon health is essential for staying proactive about your well-being. By staying informed about this procedure, you can make educated decisions about your health and take the necessary preventive measures.

Remember, early detection is key to improving treatment outcomes for colorectal cancer and other lower colon issues. Don’t hesitate to consult your healthcare provider about incorporating sigmoidoscopy into your preventive healthcare routine and staying proactive in maintaining your overall well-being.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between a sigmoidoscopy and a colonoscopy?

A sigmoidoscopy examines the rectum and sigmoid colon, whereas a colonoscopy looks at the entire large intestine. A sigmoidoscopy is less invasive as it only looks at the lower part of the colon, while a colonoscopy takes a thorough look at the whole of the large bowel. Both tests are used to examine the health of the digestive system.

What does a sigmoidoscopy test for?

A sigmoidoscopy is an examination of the rectum and part of the colon using a thin, flexible tube with a tiny camera on the end. It is used to screen for colon cancer, rectal cancer, and other abnormalities such as polyps and hemorrhoids. It can also be used to take tissue samples or biopsies.

What is the prep for a sigmoidoscopy?

Before a sigmoidoscopy, it is important to stop eating solid foods and administer enemas or take laxatives to empty your lower colon. Additionally, if you are receiving sedation, it is important to stop drinking liquids 4 hours prior to the procedure.

What is the main purpose of a sigmoidoscopy?

The main purpose of a sigmoidoscopy is to examine the lower part of the colon to identify polyps, tumors, inflammation, and even colon and rectal cancer.

How long does a sigmoidoscopy procedure take?

A sigmoidoscopy procedure usually takes around 15 minutes.

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