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Flexible sigmoidoscopy

A safe and effective procedure to investigate problems with the lower part of your large bowel

Man needing a flexible sigmoidoscopy holds his stomach in discomfort
A flexible sigmoidoscopy is a type of endoscopy that looks at the lower part of your large intestine (also called your large bowel or colon). This lower part of the bowel is also called the sigmoid colon. You might also hear the procedure called a bowel scope or a flexi sig.

Endoscopy is where a long, thin tube is passed into your body through a natural opening such as your mouth or anus. This tube has a camera on it, called an endoscope, and also a light. Endoscopy is used to diagnose a wide variety of problems and the type you have will depend on your symptoms and which area of your body needs to be investigated.

A flexible sigmoidoscopy uses a type of endoscope called a colonoscope, which is passed into your intestine through your anus. The camera projects images onto a screen so that your endoscopist can see what is going on inside your bowel.

If you have been told you need a flexible sigmoidoscopy and would like to book one directly, please call our advisors and they will help you to do so. Alternatively, book a consultation with one of our specialists below. They can help you to decide whether a flexible sigmoidoscopy is the right treatment for you.

A flexible sigmoidoscopy is used to investigate symptoms that point to problems in the large intestine, for example:

  • Bleeding from your bottom
  • Changes in your bowel movements or bowel habits
  • Abdomen (tummy) pain
  • Unexplained weight loss

Are there any alternatives to a flexible sigmoidoscopy?

Other options include a barium enema (an x-ray test of the large bowel) although this is rarely used now. More commonly a CT colonography (a special scan of the large bowel) is used to detect any abnormalities. A colonoscopy is similar to a flexible sigmoidoscopy but the aim is to go around all of the large bowel.

A flexible sigmoidoscopy looks at the lower section of your large intestine to identify abnormalities including polyps, swelling or inflammation, There are certain conditions that can be screened for and identified using this type of endoscopy, including:

Colon polyps

These are benign (non-cancerous) growths that can grow in your colon. Although they are usually harmless, there is a chance they could develop into bowel cancer, so it's best to treat them if they're found.

If polyps are discovered during your flexible sigmoidoscopy, your endoscopist may be able to remove them during the same procedure.

Colorectal cancer

Cancer of the colon or rectum can be screened for using a flexible sigmoidoscopy, which can identify abnormal tissue or growths.

Your doctor will recommend colorectal cancer screening if you have risk factors that make you more likely to develop the disease. These include obesity, inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn's disease or Colitis), and a family history of colorectal cancer.

Your healthcare team will give you a detailed explanation of how to prepare for the procedure, including what to eat and drink in the days beforehand and any bowel preparation that needs to happen.

A flexible sigmoidoscopy usually takes approximately 10-20 minutes, however this can vary for every patient. You won't usually need an anaesthetic. If appropriate, the endoscopist may offer you a gas & air or a sedative to help you relax, but this will be discussed with you along with any risks.

A sigmoidoscopy is typically performed by an endoscopist, though some other specialists will also be trained in the technique. They will start by asking you to lie on a table, often you'll be lying on your left side.

Next they will pass the colonoscope into your anus (back passage) and slowly up into your colon. Usually some air will be pumped into the space to give your doctor a better view.

Using the colonoscope, your endoscopist will be able to perform biopsies and take photographs to help make a diagnosis. Certain types of polyps may also be removed during the procedure. Often tissue samples and polyps removed will be sent for analysis.

A colonoscopy is a minor, day-case procedure and there isn't much of a recovery period. You may feel a bit bloated for a few hours but this will pass. Some people also experience a small amount of abdominal pain or cramping. You might notice a small amount of blood in your first poo after the procedure.

A member of the team will tell you what was found during the endoscopy and will discuss with you any treatment or follow-up you need.

You should be able to return to normal activities almost immediately, and to go back to work the day after your flexible sigmoidoscopy.

This is a bit different if you have had a sedative because the effects can stay in your system for up to 24 hours. Your healthcare team will tell you exactly what to expect ahead of time.

In general, a flexible sigmoidoscopy - as with any endoscopy - is a safe and effective way of looking inside your body to diagnose problems.

As with any medical procedure, complications can happen during a flexible sigmoidoscopy, though they are rare. Your consultant or endoscopist will explain these to you before you have the procedure. 

Complications can include:

  • An allergic reaction
  • Breathing difficulties or heart irregularities
  • Damage to the large bowel
  • Bleeding
  • An incomplete procedure

If you are concerned about any of these risks or about anything else, please don't hesitate to talk to your consultant or endoscopist. They will be able to put your mind at ease.

The cost of having a sigmoidoscopy can vary depending on the consultant performing the procedure. Prices can also vary between hospitals and regions.

If you are paying for your own treatment, the cost of the procedure will be explained and confirmed in writing when you book the procedure. We offer fixed-price packages that include the cost of your treatment, consultant and hospital fees as well as your aftercare. Call our team and they should be able to give you a personalised quote.

If you're looking to pay for your own treatment, you may qualify for our flexible finance plans.

Flexible sigmoidoscopy can also be paid for using your private health insurance.

When you choose to go private with Circle Health Group, you can expect:

  • Flexible appointment times and locations to fit your routine
  • The freedom to choose which hospital and consultant suit your needs
  • Personalised, consultant-led Specialty plans tailored to your individual needs
  • Comfortable and safe private facilities maintained by expert multidisciplinary teams
  • Private ensuite rooms as standards and delicious healthy meals
  • Affordable, fixed-price packages with aftercare included
  • Flexible payment options to help you spread the cost of your care

If you would like to learn more about flexible sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy or any other related procedure or condition, book your appointment online today or call a member of our team directly.

Content reviewed by Circle in-house team in March 2023. Next review due March 2026.

  1. Flexible sigmoidoscopy, Mayo Clinic
  2. Flexible sigmoidoscopy, NIDDK
  3. Flexible sigmoidoscopy, Cancer Research UK
  4. Endoscopy, NHS

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