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Sigmoidoscopy: Before Your Procedure

What is a sigmoidoscopy?

A sigmoidoscopy is a test that lets your doctor look inside the lower part of your colon. The doctor uses a lighted tube called a sigmoidoscope to look for any problems. These include small growths called polyps. They also include cancer, bleeding, and hemorrhoids.

During the test, the doctor can take samples of tissue that can be checked for cancer or other problems. This is called a biopsy. The doctor can also take out polyps.

Before the test, you will need to stop eating solid foods. You also will have an enema or take laxatives to empty your lower colon. This helps your doctor to see inside your colon during the test.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

What happens before the procedure?

Preparing for the procedure

  • Understand exactly what procedure is planned, along with the risks, benefits, and other options.
  • Tell your doctors ALL the medicines and natural health products you take. Some of these can increase the risk of bleeding or interact with the sedation medicine.
  • If you take blood thinners, such as warfarin (Coumadin), clopidogrel (Plavix), or aspirin, be sure to talk to your doctor. They will tell you if you should stop taking these medicines before your procedure. Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.
  • Your doctor will tell you which medicines to take or stop before your procedure. You may need to stop taking certain medicines a week or more before the procedure. So talk to your doctor as soon as you can.
  • If you have an advance care plan, let your doctor know. Bring a copy to the hospital. If you don't have one, you may want to prepare one. It lets your doctor and loved ones know your health care wishes. Doctors advise that everyone prepare these papers before any type of surgery or procedure.

Procedures can be stressful. This information will help you understand what you can expect. And it will help you safely prepare for your procedure.

What happens on the day of the procedure?

  • Follow the instructions exactly about when to stop eating and drinking. If you don't, your procedure may be cancelled. If your doctor told you to take your medicines on the day of the procedure, take them with only a sip of water.
  • Do not apply lotions, perfumes, deodorants, or nail polish.
  • Take off all jewellery and piercings. And take out contact lenses, if you wear them.

At the clinic or hospital

  • Bring a picture ID.
  • If you feel nervous about the test and want medicine to relax you, talk to your doctor or nurse. Many people don't want this kind of medicine. This is because they want to go back to their usual activities after the test.
  • You will lie on your side. The doctor will gently put a gloved finger into your anus. Then the doctor puts the scope in and moves it into your colon. It goes in easily because it is lubricated.
  • You may have cramps when air is put into the colon to help the doctor see. Try to breathe deeply and slowly through your mouth to relax your belly muscles. You may feel and hear air escape around the scope. There is no need to be embarrassed about it. The passing of air is expected.
  • The doctor may also use small tools to take tissue samples for a biopsy or to remove polyps. This does not hurt.
  • The test usually takes 20 minutes or less.

Going home

  • If you have sedation be sure you have someone to drive you home. Sedation medicine makes it unsafe for you to drive.
  • You will be given more specific instructions about recovering from your procedure.

When should you call your doctor?

  • You have questions or concerns.
  • You don't understand how to prepare for your procedure.
  • You become ill before the procedure (such as fever, flu, or a cold).
  • You need to reschedule or have changed your mind about having the procedure.

When should you call for help after the procedure?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness) or feel like you will faint.
  • You pass a lot of blood from your rectum.
  • You have trouble breathing.

Call your doctor, nurse call line, or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have pain that does not get better even after passing gas.
  • You are sick to your stomach or cannot drink fluids.
  • You have new or worse belly pain.
  • You have blood in your stools.
  • You have a fever (over 38°C or 100.4°F).
  • You cannot pass stools or gas.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and contact your doctor or nurse call line (811 in Alberta) if you have any problems or questions.

Where can you learn more?

Go to

Enter M944 in the search box to learn more about "Sigmoidoscopy: Before Your Procedure".

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