The Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust

Flexible Sigmoidoscopy

What is flexible sigmoidoscopy?

This procedure is performed to examine the first part of your colon (bowel).  The flexible endoscope is passed through the anus around the first part of the bowel and the process takes approximately 20 minutes. Prior to the procedure you will be asked to take some laxatives or have an enema to clean the bowel.


It is commonly performed to examine symptoms of change of bowel habit or bleeding. You may be referred by your hospital consultant or as part of the national bowel cancer screening programme. It is an extremely common procedure to be performed.

Whilst all procedures carry risks, the chance of a major complication occurring in a flexible sigmoidoscopy is low.

During the procedure

The main discomfort from the procedure occurs from the stretching of the bowel from the gas used to inflate it, or stretching of the wall from the passage of the colonoscope.  We try to keep the amount of gas that we put into the bowel to a minimum to avoid causing you discomfort but we have to put some air in so we can see where to pass the colonoscope.

You may notice a piece of equipment that stands in front of your bed, this is a called scope guide. It helps the endoscopist to see if there is looping or twisting of the colonoscope in your bowel. This can help the endoscopist to keep discomfort to a minimum for you as the bowel is stretched less.

Pain relief

As this is a short test most patients are happy to have the procedure with no painkillers as the discomfort is manageable. However if you would like some pain relief, sedation or Entonox (gas and air), these are available for you. The patient information leaflet will tell you more about the options available to you for pain relief during your procedure or you can ask the nurse when you attend for the procedure.  

After the procedure

Following a sigmoidoscopy , you will be discharged from the department the same day. If you have no pain relief you will be able to leave very quickly but if you have sedation you will need to recover in the unit for a few hours after.  If you do have sedation, you will also need someone to collect you from the endoscopy unit and take you home (not on public transport) and someone to stay with you for 24 hours. You will also not be able to work, drive a car or operate machinery for 24 hours. 

The patient information leaflet will tell you more about the options available to you for pain relief during your procedure or you can  ask the nurse when you attend for the procedure. 

Before you leave the endoscopy unit the nurses will give you advice about what to expect after your test and a contact number in case you experience any problems.

Download more information

For further information please read our patient information leaflets: