Sigmoidoscopy FAQ

Sigmoidoscopy is a test performed to help diagnose problems causing bowel incontinence. Other tests for diagnosing fecal incontinence include; anal manometry, anorectal ultrasound, stool tests, and digital rectal exam (DRE). 

What is a Sigmoidoscopy?

Sigmoidoscopy is used to view the rectum and lower colon to help diagnose problems causing bowel incontinence. It is performed at a hospital or outpatient center. 

What you can expect1

Sigmoidoscopy is performed in either a hospital or outpatient setting. You will be given instructions for preparation of the test that may begin 1 to 3 days in advance. Light anesthesia may be used to help you relax during the sigmoidoscopy. 

The test is performed while you are lying on a table and a flexible tube is inserted into the anus. The tube has a small camera that projects a video of your intestinal lining. This visual can show problems in the rectum or lower colon that may be causing fecal incontinence. 

How to prepare for a Sigmoidoscopy2

A clean colon is required for an effective sigmoidoscopy, as any residue may obscure the view of your colon and rectum during the exam. You will receive preparation instructions from your doctor, these instructions may include:

  • Following a special diet for 24 hours before the exam: solid foods are typically restricted and drinks may be limited to clear liquids – plain water, broth, carbonated beverages and tea and coffee without milk or cream. You may be asked to cease all food and beverage after midnight the night before the exam

  • Taking a laxative (liquid or pill form) the night before

  • Using an enema kit either the night before or a few hours before the exam

  • Adjusting your medications

After the Sigmoidoscopy1

Cramping or bloating may occur during the first hour immediately after the test. Driving is not permitted for 24 hours if anesthesia was used, and therefore plans should be made for a ride home prior to the appointment. Full recovery is expected by the next day and the person should be able to go back to a normal diet. 




Use our find a doctor tool to find a specialist near you who can help diagnosis bowel incontinence.



  1. UCSF Center for Colorectal Surgery. Fecal incontinence. Available at Accessed September 13, 2019. 
  2. Mayo Clinic. Flexible Sigmoidoscopy. Available at Accessed September 13, 2019.