Having a flexible sigmoidoscopy
Having a colonoscopy – examination of your large bowel
Adhesions are strands of tissue that form in the body in response to injury. Abdominal cavity is one of the commonest sites where adhesions tend to form.This leaflet explains more about having a colonoscopy, including the benefits, risks and
any alternatives and what you can expect when you come to hospital.
If you have any further questions, please speak to a doctor or nurse caring for you.
What is a flexible sigmoidoscopy
What is a flexible sigmoidoscopy?
A sigmoidoscopy is a routine test to examine the lining of your sigmoid colon. This is the lower
part of your colon, also called your bowel or large intestine.
The examination uses a endoscope, which is a flexible tube about the thickness of your little
finger, with a camera and light at one end. It is passed through your anus (back passage) and
carefully moved around your large bowel by a specially trained doctor or nurse, called an
endoscopist. Sometimes biopsies (small tissue samples) of your bowel may be taken for
Why should I have a flexible sigmoidoscopy
By looking down the endoscope, your doctor or nurse will be able to get a clear view of the
lining of your colon. This will help your doctor or nurse to diagnose your symptoms or check any
bowel condition that you have had diagnosed in the past. Polyps (small growths in the bowel)
can also be removed during the examination.
You may have been advised to have a flexible sigmoidoscopy if you have:
• bleeding from your anus
• pain in the lower abdomen (tummy)
• persistent diarrhoea
• changes to your bowel habits
• a strong family history of bowel cancer
• had an X-ray test and more information is needed about the lower end of your bowel
• a pre-existing condition such as colitis that needs reviewing
• been referred by your GP and booked into the Rectal Bleed Clinic, which involves a
flexible sigmoidoscopy as part of the assessment and treatment.
What are the risks
Serious complications are extremely rare (one patient in every 10,000). The most serious risk is
the endoscope damaging your colon during the test. This can cause an infection, bleeding or a
perforation (tear) of the lining of the bowel. If this happens, your abdomen may become painful
and bloated and you may need medicine or surgery to treat the problem.
If a biopsy is taken or a polyp is removed during the test, you may pass a small amount of blood
from your anus after the test. This should only happen up to 12–24 hours after the test and is
usually no more than a few teaspoons full.
Please note that occasionally the test may need to be abandoned or may be incomplete. This
can happen if you find the procedure too uncomfortable or if the bowel preparation did not
empty your bowel completely. In this case, the test may need to be repeated or we may suggest
an alternative procedure. Your doctor or specialist nurse will discuss these potential risks with
you in more detail. Please ask questions if you are uncertain.
Are there any alternatives
Barium enema. This test can examine the large intestine using X-rays and barium
sulphate. The barium sulphate coats the lining of your bowel, making it easier to see on X-
ray. This test does not look at the lower part of your bowel, so you may still need to have a
• CT (computerised tomography)/ CT enema. This is a special type of X-ray machine that
can give more details than normal X-rays. However, it cannot be used to take biopsies or
remove polyps, so you may still need a colonoscopy.
• A sigmoidoscopy. This is similar to a colonoscopy but only looks at the lower part of the
bowel. If your doctor or nurse cannot diagnose your symptoms after this test, you may still
need a colonoscopy.
• Faecal occult blood test (FOB). This tests for hidden blood in your stool, but you may still
need a colonoscopy if this test is positive.
The tests above are generally considered to be less accurate than a colonoscopy and some of
them involve radiation.
How can I prepare for a colonoscopy? adhesiolysis
To make sure the doctor or nurse has a clear view of your colon, it must be completely empty.
Therefore, you will be asked to follow a special diet for a few days before the procedure. You
will have to take a laxative (substance that speeds bowel movement) before the test. Full details
will be given to you when you come to the Endoscopy Unit to collect your bowel preparation or
in the Outpatient Department when you are first referred for a colonoscopy. If you have any
questions about the test, you will be able to discuss them at this time.
You will also need to drink more fluids on the day before your colonoscopy. You should aim to
drink a glass of water every hour.
Before the procedure
When you arrive at the Endoscopy Unit, please give your name to the receptionist or nurse. He
or she will ask you to wait in the waiting area until you are seen by an endoscopy nurse, who
will ask you about your medical history. Please tell the nurse if you have had any reactions or
allergies to other examinations in the past.
In case there are polyps present, we will ask you to take off all your jewellery before the
examination. This is because you should not wear any metal for the technique we use to
remove polyps. Because of this, you may wish to leave any valuable jewellery at home, as we
cannot be responsible for any valuables lost while in the unit.
You will be asked to remove all of your clothing and change into a gown. You may want to
bring your dressing gown and slippers with you. Once you are ready you will be taken to
the second waiting area, signposted ‘sub wait area.’ Your endoscopist will explain more about
the procedure and answer any questions you may still have.
You should have had a chance to discuss any medications you are taking with one of our
nurses or doctors before your procedure. If you are taking anti-platelet medication or
anticoagulant medication to prevent the formation of blood clots (such as aspirin or clopidogrel,
warfarin, rivaroxiban or dabigatran); sedatives, chronic pain medication, or medications for
diabetes, please let the doctor or nurse know in good time before the date of your procedure.
You should continue to take all of your medications as normal, unless you have been told
otherwise by the doctor or endoscopy nurse.
Giving my consent (permission)
We want to involve you in decisions about your care and treatment. If you decide to go ahead,
you will be asked to sign a consent form. This states that you agree to have the treatment and
you understand what it involves.
You should receive the leaflet, Helping you decide: our consent policy, which gives you
more information. If you do not, please ask a member of staff caring for you for a copy.
During the procedure
This test is normally performed with sedation or an injection of painkillers but you can choose
not to have sedation if you wish. Sedation is medication that makes you sleepy but does not put
you to sleep. Your endoscopist will explain this to you in more detail.
As an alternative to sedation you may wish to consider using Entonox® for pain relief. You may
already know that Entonox® is used to relieve pain during childbirth. It is also used widely by
the ambulance service and in hospitals for a variety of procedures and conditions. Please ask
the doctor or nurse for a copy of our leaflet: Use of Entonox® for your endoscopic
The test itself only takes about 30 minutes and an endoscopy nurse will be present throughout
You will be asked to lie down on your left-hand side on a couch with your knees bent. The
endoscope will then be inserted into your lower bowel through your anus. Air will be passed
down a channel in the endoscope, expanding your bowel to make it easier to see the lining.
This may make you feel slightly bloated and you may feel the urge to go to the toilet, but you will
not be able to do this as your bowel will be empty. Many people pass some wind during the test.
This is perfectly normal and is nothing to be embarrassed about.
If polyps are present, your endoscopist can remove these using a technique called diathermy
(electrical heating). This is where a special instrument is used to burn away the polyps. You will
not feel this. Similarly, you will not feel anything if any biopsies are taken.
Will I feel any pain? adhesiolysis
You should not feel pain during the test, although you may have brief periods of discomfort;
particularly when the endoscope is first inserted and when the scope passes around bends in
your bowel. Occasionally the nurse will press gently on your stomach or your position may be
altered to aid the passage of the scope.
What happens after a colonoscopy
LeAfter the procedure you will be taken to the recovery area. If you have had sedation, you will
need to rest quietly until the sedative has worn off (usually a couple of hours). The nurse will
check your blood pressure and pulse and offer you some tea and biscuits.
If you have not had sedation you will be taken to the discharge area where you will be given a
copy of the test results and you will be able to leave the hospital straight afterwards. You may
still feel a little bloated from the air passed into your bowel during the procedure but this should
pass quite quickly.
The results of any biopsies or polyps taken during the test will generally be available within two
weeks of the test. You and your GP will receive a letter with the results and any
recommendations for your care and treatment.
You may be given an appointment to come back to the clinic for these results: This may be
given to you on the same day of your procedure if it is urgent. Otherwise it will be sent in the
If you have sedation, you must have someone to escort you home and stay with you for
24 hours. He/she should come with you for the appointment or be contactable by phone when
you are ready to leave. If you do not have an escort or have not arranged for someone to collect
you, then your procedure will be cancelled. If you are unable to arrange someone to collect you,
please contact us to discuss alternative arrangements.
The sedation lasts longer than you may think, so in the first 24 hours after your examination,
you should not:
• drive or ride a bicycle
• operate machinery or do anything requiring skill or judgement
• drink alcohol
• take sleeping tablets
• go to work
• make any important decisions, sign contracts or legal documents.
You should rest at home following your procedure, you can eat and drink normally and should
be able to carry out your normal activities 24 hours after the test.
What do I need to do after I go home
If you have a question or concern after the test, please phone the Endoscopy Unit.
Please consult your GP or go to your nearest A&E department if you develop severe
abdominal pain, a fever or pass large amounts of blood after the test.