The last segment of the alimentary canal is called the rectum, which is about 4-5 inches in length. The stool from the colon enters the rectum just before defecation. Despite its short length, the rectum can be a source of significant discomfort in a variety of diseases. In fact, diseases that affect the rectum are quite common, and can cause itching, pain, and rectal bleeding. Rectal discomfort may also result from changes in the bowel movements (such as diarrhea).
Discomfort in the Rectum
Some symptoms, such as itching and pain in the rectum, can be easily described. However, not all symptoms are as straightforward. In some cases, one may feel an uncomfortable sensation in the rectum that one cannot describe accurately. Such sensations of discomfort in the rectum may worsen upon prolonged sitting or during defecation. However, the rectal discomfort may persist even in the absence of these conditions.
There are a variety of causes for sensations of rectal discomfort. One of the most common cause is inflammation. When a tissue gets injured, an inflammatory response ensues. Inflammation is characterized by pain, swelling and redness in the area of the injury. In the early stages of inflammation, a sensation of discomfort may arise. In some cases, rectal discomfort may occur even without inflammation in the rectum.
Such sensations are usually caused by problems within the nervous system. Rectal discomfort may also be caused by pressure exerted on the rectum by the surrounding tissues.
Read more on itchy rectum.
Causes of Rectal Discomfort
The causes of vague rectal discomfort may overlap with the causes of itching, pain, burning sensations, and rectal bleeding. In the majority of cases, the causes of rectal discomfort are mild conditions that can be readily treated. Changes in diet and other lifestyle measures may also help in preventing rectal discomfort.
Poor anal hygiene
Poor anal hygiene is a common cause of rectal discomfort. Improper cleaning of the anal and perianal area after defecation causes feces to stick to these regions, leading to skin irritation. At the other extreme, aggressive wiping of the anal area after defecation may also cause skin irritation that leads to rectal discomfort.
Trauma to anus and rectum
Trauma or injury to the anus or rectum could occur due to several reasons. Some common causes of trauma include scratching and vigorous wiping or washing of the anal area. These actions can cause injury even in the rectum. Colonoscopy can also cause some irritation in the rectum. This irritation may persist for some time after the procedure. Other potential causes of rectal trauma include rough insertion of anal suppository and anal intercourse.
Also known as piles, hemorrhoids refer to inflamed and swollen blood vessels in the rectal and anal regions. Constipation is one of the main causes of hemorrhoids. Sitting in the toilet for a long time and straining too hard during bowel movements may also contribute to the occurrence of hemorrhoids. Piles can be a chronic condition with intermittent periods of acute symptoms. Anal itching, rectal discomfort and bleeding are common symptoms of hemorrhoids.
Diarrhea is a common condition with a variety of causes. Acute cases of diarrhea are typically associated with infections. Rectal irritation can occur in diarrhea due to repeated excretion of watery stool and the more frequent wiping after a bowel movement. This can injure the anus. Rectal discomfort in such cases usually worsens after defecation.
Fecal impaction is characterized by hard and dry stools that are difficult to pass out during defecation. This can cause obstruction in the colon or the rectum. Fecal impaction is typically associated with constipation. The condition is associated with a feeling of something being stuck in the rectum. Laxatives and stool softeners are often used to treat fecal impaction. If these methods don’t work, the impacted stool may need manual removal by a medical professional.
Read more on blocked rectum.
A variety of diseases that affect the bowels may also cause rectal discomfort. Examples of some bowel diseases that can also affect the rectum include proctocolitis, inflammatory bowel disease (abbreviated as IBD), colorectal cancer, and diverticulitis. Most of the time this is related to the alteration of bowel habit (diarrhea or constipation) that occurs with these diseases but may also be due to the disease process that inflames the rectum.
Enlarged prostate gland
Rectal discomfort can also be caused by problems outside the rectum. In men, the prostate gland is located in close proximity to the rectum. Enlargement of the prostate gland can exert pressure on the rectum and cause rectal discomfort. The rectal discomfort caused by the enlargement of the prostate gland worsens when the rectum is filled with stool.
Rectal prolapse is characterized by the protrusion of a part of the rectum through the anus. Stretching of the rectum in the absence of adequate support can lead to rectal prolapse. There could be a variety of abnormal sensations that may cause rectal discomfort in cases of rectal prolapse. However, the condition may not be associated with severe pain.
Treatment for Rectal Discomfort
Since rectal discomfort can be due to a variety of causes, the exact treatment for the condition depends on the nature of the underlying cause. Therefore, treatments for rectal discomfort can vary widely on a case-to-case basis. Treatments may be done through medications, surgery, or just lifestyle changes. The severity of the symptoms of rectal discomfort do not always correlate with the seriousness of the underlying condition.
Mild symptoms may occur due to life-threatening conditions, whereas severe symptoms may not be due to any serious cause. Therefore, it is best to get the cause of rectal discomfort diagnosed by a qualified doctor. Regardless of the underlying cause of rectal discomfort, the following lifestyle measures may help in easing the discomfort:
- Avoid excessive wiping of the anal area when cleaning up after a bowel movement. Using a slightly wet toilet paper may prevent any abrasions during wiping.
- Avoid prolonged sitting in the toilet. Do not read or use mobile devices in the toilet as they are frequent contributors to the habit of sitting in the toilet for a long time.
- Use of sitz baths can provide relief from the symptoms of hemorrhoids.
- The anal area should be cleaned properly during bathing and dried thoroughly afterwards.
- Toilet papers should be soft and of good quality.
These measures do not replace medical treatments for rectal discomfort. Rather, they may help in preventing some cases of rectal discomfort.