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Sigmoidoscopy is a procedure used to view the lower colon and rectum. This test can help find the source of abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, and changes in bowel habits. Sigmoidoscopy is also used as part of the screening for colorectal cancer. It is done using a sigmoidoscope, a flexible tube with a viewing lens and light.

If you’re 50 or over, the American Cancer Society recommends having this test in addition to stool tests, every 5 years to screen for colorectal cancer. Your doctor may also recommend other colon cancer screening methods such as colonoscopy.

Getting ready

Man lying on exam table on side. Health care provider is holding end of scope and looking at pictures on monitor. Another health care provider is standing next to table.

  • Be sure to tell your doctor about any medications you take. Also tell your doctor about any health conditions you may have.

  • Ask your doctor about the risks of the test. These include bleeding and bowel puncture.

  • Your rectum and colon must be empty for the test, so be sure to follow the diet and bowel prep instructions. Otherwise the test may need to be rescheduled.

During the test

  • The test is done in the doctor’s office or in a hospital endoscopy unit. You may wear a gown or a drape over your lower body.

  • The procedure usually takes 10 to 20 minutes.

  • The doctor does a digital rectal exam to check for anal and rectal problems. The rectum is lubricated and the scope inserted.

  • You may have a feeling similar to needing to have a bowel movement. You may also feel pressure when air is pumped into the colon This is done so that the doctor can get a better view. It’s expected that you will pass gas during the procedure.

After the test

  • Usually you’ll discuss the results with your doctor right away, unless you’re having other tests.

  • Try to pass all the gas right after the test. Otherwise you may have bloating and cramping.

  • After the test you can go back to your normal eating and other activities.

When to call your doctor

Call if you have any of the following after the procedure:

  • Pain in your abdomen

  • Fever

  • Dizziness or weakness

  • Excessive rectal bleeding. Slight bleeding or spotting is normal, especially if a biopsy was taken.


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