Rectal Prolapse

What is Rectal Prolapse?

A Rectal Prolapse occurs when the rectal portion of the intestines protrudes through the anal opening. It affects more children and older women than men. Just a very small portion may come out while straining to pass a bowel movement, but it can come out entirely and stay outside of the body.

A rectal prolapse can also fold up within itself and remain internal. When the problem is severe it can cause fecal incontinence and other serious problems. The causes vary in children and adults.

Rectal prolapse in children may be caused by:

Rectal prolapse in adults may be caused by:

  • Constipation and straining during bowel movements
  • Damage caused by childbirth
  • Damage from prior surgeries
  • Weakened pelvic floor muscles

What are the Symptoms of Rectal Prolapse?

In the earliest stages or when the condition is mild, symptoms may include:

  • Leakage of fecal matter
  • Leakage of blood or fecal mucous

When the condition is severe, symptoms may also include:

  • Full feeling in the rectum
  • Feeling of bowel movement urgency
  • Passing numerous unusually small stools
  • Sensation of having an impassable bowel movement
  • Anal bleeding, itchiness, pain, and discomfort
  • Intestines protruding from the anus (bright red tissue)

Rectal Prolapse Causes

One of the most common causes of rectal prolapse is chronic constipation. This occurs when stools become very hard and firm, which makes them difficult to pass without excessive straining. It is thought that this straining, particularly if it occurs on a regular basis, can cause the anal sphincter to weaken which allows the rectum to protrude from it. Similarly, some people with rectal prolapse report frequent diarrhea which suggests that this can also weaken the anal sphincter.

In some cases of rectal prolapse it is nerve damage which is to blame. If the nerves which control the opening and closing of the rectum and anal sphincter cannot function properly, the rectum may begin to prolapse. Nerve damage could be caused by:

– Surgeries in the pelvic or anal region
– Spinal or back injury or surgery
– Complicated vaginal childbirth

Rectal prolapse often occurs later on in life, and this is because muscles and ligaments throughout our body become weaker as we age. Individuals who have strained or injured the anal region in the past may be more likely to develop rectal prolapse as they get older.

How is Rectal Prolapse Treated?

When children have a minor rectal prolapse it usually goes away with stool softener and/or dietary changes. However, an underlying condition could be to blame. The child should have a physical exam. Sometimes an injection of medication or surgery may become necessary.

Minor rectal prolapses in adults can be corrected by gently pushing the tissue back into the anus. Dietary changes may be necessary to avoid constipation. Other adult treatment options may include:

  • Kegel exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor
  • Stool softener to limit straining during bowel movements
  • Surgery

When a rectal prolapse is left untreated the rectum could become severely damaged and fecal incontinence could greatly worsen.

Rectal Prolapse Prevention

The best way to prevent rectal prolapse is to minimize strain and pressure on the muscles and ligaments in the anal and pelvic regions.

Those who suffer from chronic constipation should drink plenty of fluids and increase the amount of soluble and insoluble fiber in their diet to make stools softer and easier to pass. Insoluble fiber can be found in:

  • Wheat bran
  • Vegetables
  • Whole grains

Chronic diarrhea should also be avoided, and this can be done by eating more soluble fiber which will work to soak up excess fluid and make stools firmer and less frequent. Soluble fiber can be found in:

  • Oat bran
  • Barley
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Beans, lentils and peas
Last Reviewed:
October 09, 2016
Last Updated:
December 06, 2017