rectal prolapse

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Rectal Prolapse



Rectal prolapse is protrusion of rectal tissue through the anus to the exterior of the body. The rectum is the final section of the large intestine.


Rectal prolapse can be either partial or complete. In partial prolapse, only the mucosa layer (mucous membrane) of the rectum extends outside the body. The projection is generally 0.75-1.5 in (2-4 cm) long. In complete prolapse, called procidentia, the full thickness of the rectum protrudes for up to 4.5 in (12 cm).
Rectal prolapse is most common in people over age 60, and occurs much more frequently in women than in men. It is also more common in psychiatric patients. Prolapse can occur in normal infants, where it is usually transient. In children it is often an early sign of cystic fibrosis or is due to neurological or anatomical abnormalities.
Although rectal prolapse in adults may initially reduce spontaneously after bowel movements, it eventually becomes permanent. Adults who have had prior rectal or vaginal surgery, who have chronic constipation, regularly depend on laxatives, have multiple sclerosis or other neurologic diseases, stroke, or paralysis are more likely to experience rectal prolapse.

Causes and symptoms

Rectal prolapse in adults is caused by a weakening of the sphincter muscle or ligaments that hold the rectum in place. Weakening can occur because of aging, disease, or in rare cases, surgical trauma. Prolapse is brought on by straining to have bowel movements, chronic laxative use, or severe diarrhea.
Symptoms of rectal prolapse include discharge of mucus or blood, pain during bowel movements, and inability to control bowel movements (fecal incontinence). Patients may also feel the mass of tissue protruding from the anus. With large prolapses, the patient may lose the normal urge to have a bowel movement.


Prolapse is initially diagnosed by taking a patient history and giving a rectal examination while the patient is in a squatting position. It is confirmed by sigmoidoscopy (inspection of the colon with a viewing instrument called a endoscope) Barium enema x rays and other tests are done to rule out neurologic (nerve) disorders or disease as the primary cause of prolapse.


In infants, conservative treatment, consisting of strapping the buttocks together between bowel movements and eliminating any causes of bowel straining, usually produces a spontaneous resolution of prolapse. For partial prolapse in adults, excess tissue is surgically tied off with special bands causing the tissue to wither in a few days.
Complete prolapse requires surgery. Different surgical techniques are used, but all involve anchoring the rectum to other parts of the body, and using plastic mesh to reinforce and support the rectum. In patients too old, or ill, to tolerate surgery, a wire or plastic loop can be inserted to hold the sphincter closed and prevent prolapse. Treatment should be undertaken as soon as prolapse is diagnosed, since the longer the condition exists, the more difficult it is to reverse.

Alternative treatment

Alternative therapies can act as support for conventional threatment, especially if surgery is required. Acupuncture, homeopathy, and botanical medicine can all be used to assist in resolution of the prolapse or in recovery from surgery.


Successful resolution of rectal prolapse involves prompt treatment and the elimination of any underlying causes of prolapse. Infants and children usually recover completely without complications. Recovery in adults depends on age, general health, and the extent of the prolapse.


Reducing constipation by eating a diet high in fiber, drinking plenty of fluids, and avoiding straining during bowel movements help prevent the onset of prolapse. Exercises that strengthen the anal sphincter may also be helpful.



"Rectal Prolapse." ThriveOnline.

Key terms

Rectum — The part of the large intestine that ends at the anal canal.
Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


1. the falling down or downward displacement of a part or viscus; called also procidentia and ptosis.
2. to undergo such displacement.
prolapse of cord protrusion of the umbilical cord ahead of the presenting part of the fetus in labor.
Variations of prolapsed umbilical cord. From McKinney et al., 2000.
prolapse of the iris protrusion of the iris through a wound in the cornea.
mitral valve prolapse see mitral valve prolapse.
rectal prolapse (prolapse of rectum) protrusion of the rectal mucous membrane through the anus.
prolapse of uterus downward displacement of the uterus so that the cervix is within the vaginal orifice (first-degree prolapse), the cervix is outside the orifice (second-degree prolapse), or the entire uterus is outside the orifice (third-degree prolapse).
Miller-Keane Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health, Seventh Edition. © 2003 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc. All rights reserved.

rectal prolapse

Proctology The abnormal egress of the rectal mucosa through the anus, seen primarily in children < age 6. Clinical The prolapsed rectal tissue appears as a red 5–10 cm mass; mucosa is visible and may bleed Associations Pinworms, whipworms, cystic fibrosis, celiac disease, constipation. Cf Uterine prolapse.
McGraw-Hill Concise Dictionary of Modern Medicine. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

rectal prolapse

A turning inside-out of the RECTUM so that the mucous membrane lining is seen to protrude, to a variable degree, from the ANUS. In complete prolapse the whole thickness of the bowel protrudes as a thick cylindrical mass with the lining on the outside. Prolapse in women tends to follow childbirth with resulting weakness of the floor of the pelvis. Treatment is by an operation to tighten the muscle ring around the anus (the anal sphincter) or to fix the rectum in place internally.
Collins Dictionary of Medicine © Robert M. Youngson 2004, 2005
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