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An information guide for Patients
Bowel problems are extremely common and can be difficult to diagnose without looking inside the lower gut. Your doctor has recommended a simple examination of the lower bowel, the area where many problems tend to occur, called a flexible sigmoidoscopy. This special examination can be done quickly (usually in just 5-6 minutes), gently, and without too much discomfort.
The flexible sigmoidoscope is a narrow, relatively soft flexible tube, which can be passed, after lubrication with some jelly, into the back passage. As it is flexible, it can go round the bends in your lower bowel allowing the endoscopist to examine the lining of the bowel.
Please report to the receptionist in the Endoscopy Unit. Please note that waiting room space for relatives is limited and that children and infants are NOT allowed in the Unit. One of our nursing team will escort you to the ward area, explain the test and ask you some questions about your general health and medication. A doctor or nurse endoscopist will also come to talk to you and answer any queries you may have. You may find that you have to wait a while before it is your turn to have the examination and / or to speak to the Endoscopist afterwards, so feel free to bring a book or a newspaper.
Preparation and cleaning of the bowel
You will be given an enema when you arrive at the unit to clear out your lower bowel.
The person undertaking your examination (the endoscopist) will have had special training in this procedure. You will probably be asked to lie on your left side with a nurse present to reassure you. The nurse may also help the endoscopist complete the examination by gently pressing on your tummy. Air will be slowly introduced into the bowel to inflate it slightly so the tube can pass along it easily and enable the endoscopist to get the best possible pictures of the bowel lining. This air sometimes causes a little discomfort, similar to wind, which disappears soon after the examination. On average the procedure takes 5-6 minutes but can be stopped at any stage if it gets too uncomfortable. It may occasionally take a little longer. The tube can be passed up to 60 cm (24 inches) into the bowel. The endoscopist and nurse will talk to you throughout so that you can let them know if it becomes uncomfortable. You will have complete control on stopping the procedure at any point but please note that any ‘windy’ discomfort you experience will disappear very quickly.
Sometimes it may be necessary for the doctor to take a biopsy. This is a small piece of tissue is taken from inside the bowel and sent to the laboratory for examination under a microscope.
The doctor or nurse endoscopist will ensure that you understand the procedures, the benefits and any possible risks and will then ask you to sign a consent form.
The vast majority of sigmoidoscopies are performed without complication. Although the staff of the Endoscopy Unit are very experienced, as for any procedure, there are some small risks involved. Very rarely, a small tear can be made in the colon, ‘perforation’, and there is a small risk of bleeding, ‘haemorrhage’. These complications are very rare (less than one in 1000 examinations), but may require urgent treatment, blood transfusion or even an operation.
After the examination you will be able to go home quite quickly. You may have to sit on the toilet and pass some wind before you leave and you may have a little discomfort with wind for 24 hours afterwards.
If you have any questions regarding your sigmoidoscopy appointment do not hesitate to contact the Endoscopy Unit on 020 8321 5752.
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