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Alternative names

Proctoscopy; Proctosigmoidoscopy


An internal examination of the rectum, distal sigmoid colon, and large bowel using a type of small camera (flexible sigmoidoscope).

How the test is performed

During the test, you wear a hospital gown so that the lower half of your body is exposed. You are positioned on your left side with your knees drawn up toward your chest.

First, a gastroenterologist (a specialist in diseases of the digestive system) will expose your anus and gently insert a gloved and lubricated finger (or fingers) into the rectum to check for blockage and dilate the anus. This is called a digital rectal examination.

Following the digital rectal exam, the sigmoidoscope will be inserted. This is a flexible fiberoptic tube about 20 inches long.

The scope is gently advanced into the colon. Air is introduced into the scope to aid in viewing. The air may cause the urge to defecate. As the sigmoidoscope is slowly removed, the lining of the bowel is carefully examined. A channel in the scope allows for the passage of forceps for biopsies or other instruments for therapy.

How to prepare for the test

You must sign an informed consent form. You will wear a hospital gown.

On the morning of the procedure, eat a light breakfast and then use a cleansing enema about 1 hour before the sigmoidoscopy.

Infants and children:
The physical and psychological preparation you can provide for this or any test or procedure depends on your child's age, interests, previous experiences, and level of trust. For specific information regarding how you can prepare your child, see the following topics as they correspond to your child's age:
  • infant test or procedure preparation (birth to 1 year)
  • toddler test or procedure preparation (1 to 3 years)
  • preschooler test or procedure preparation (3 to 6 years)
  • schoolage test or procedure preparation (6 to 12 years)
  • adolescent test or procedure preparation (12 to 18 years)

How the test will feel

There will be pressure when the scopes or fingers are introduced into your rectum. There will be a feeling of the need to defecate during the procedure. There may be some bloating or cramping from distention of the bowel by air or stretching by the sigmoidoscope. Biopsies cause no discomfort.

After the test, you will expel the air that was introduced.

Why the test is performed

This test can help diagnose:

  • inflammatory bowel disease
  • bowel obstruction
  • colon cancer
  • colon polyps
  • diverticulosis
  • causes of diarrhea
  • causes of abdominal pain

This test can also be used to:

  • determine the cause of blood, mucus, or pus in the stool
  • confirm findings of another test or X-rays
  • take a biopsy of a growth

Normal Values

The lining of the sigmoid colon, rectal mucosa , rectum, and anus appears normal in color, texture, and size.

What abnormal results mean

Abnormal results can indicate:
  • hemorrhoids
  • anal fissures
  • anorectal abscess
  • cancer
  • colorectal polyps
  • inflammation or infection ( proctitis )
  • bowel obstruction
  • inflammatory bowel disease
  • diverticulosis

What the risks are

There is slight risk of bowel perforation (hole) and bleeding at the biopsy sites (the overall risk is approximately 1 out of 1,000).

Update Date: 5/1/2002

Jenifer K. Lehrer, M.D., Department of Gastroenterology, Graduate Hospital, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.

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Last updated: Tue, 06 Jan 2009 00:20:03 GMT