Rectal Discharge: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention
Rectal discharge is the release of mucus or pus from the anal opening. It can be a sign of an underlying colorectal problem or occur after colorectal surgery. Rectal discharge gives a constant feeling of dampness (moisture) at the anal opening or a feeling to pass out the bowel. The discharge can occur in both, men and women.
What is Rectal Discharge?
A rectal discharge is the passing out of any fluid from the anus, apart from feces and blood. Mostly, the discharge is the mucus, which is usually produced in the colon and rectum for protection and to help pass the stool easily. A rectal discharge is one of the common effects seen after a colon or rectal surgery with an ostomy. An ostomy is a temporary or permanent surgical opening to divert the passage of the stool. In certain ostomy surgeries, the colon and rectum remain in the same place, some parts of the colon and rectum continue to pass out mucus from the rectum.
What are the Causes of Rectal Discharge?
Rectal discharge can be caused by many underlying conditions, such as infections, anal fissures, or chronic diseases. Some of the common causes of rectal discharge include:
- Fecal impaction: Fecal impaction is a state where a large amount of feces gets caught in the colon or rectum due to prolonged or chronic constipation.
- Anal fissures: An anal fissure is an injury affecting the stretch of the anal canal that causes a tear in the lining of the anus. This can result in bleeding during bowel movement and discharge of mucus or pus-like fluid from the anus.
- Sexually transmitted infections (STIs): Some sexually transmitted infections, such as chlamydia, syphilis, trichomonas, gonorrhea, and herpes simplex virus (HSV) 2 can cause rectal discharge.
- Perianal or perirectal abscess: Perianal abscess occurs when the anal cavity gets filled with pus.
- Gastroenteritis (GI): Gastroenteritis, also known as stomach flu can cause diarrhea, which may result in rectal bleeding and discharge of mucus or pus from the rectum.
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD): Inflammatory bowel diseases, such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis can result in a visible amount of mucus in stools.
- Food intolerance: Severe food intolerance can result in symptoms, such as mucus in stool and rectal discharge.
- Certain medications: Rectal discharge can be an indication of a side effect of specific drugs, such as orlistat.
Symptoms Associated with Rectal Discharge:
The common signs and symptoms associated with rectal discharge include:
- Rectal pain
- Tenderness around the anus
- Staining of undergarments
- Rectal bleeding
- Frequent urge to pass out bowels
- Foul-smelling discharge
Rectal discharge may be accompanied by several symptoms that affect the gastrointestinal system, such as:
- Abdominal swelling
- Change in the bowel habits
- Fecal incontinence
- Pain in the lower back or pelvis
- Episodes of watery diarrhea
Diagnosis of Rectal Discharge:
The doctor will recommend the following tests to diagnose the underlying condition causing rectal discharge:
Blood tests: A sample of the blood is collected and tested to determine the presence of any STIs, such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), syphilis, gonorrhea, trichomoniasis, and genital herpes. This helps to analyze whether a STI is causing the rectal discharge.
Microscopic examination: A sample of the rectal discharge is viewed under a microscope to find out the number of leucocytes (a type of white blood cell that helps fight infection). Presence of more number of leucocytes in a blood sample indicates the presence of an infection.
Proctoscopy: During this procedure, the doctor uses an instrument known as proctoscope or rectoscope to examine the problems in the anal cavity, rectum or colon.
Colonoscopy: During this procedure, the doctor inserts a long, flexible tube with a camera attached to its tip into the rectum of the patient. The procedure helps to examine the rectum and colon, thereby enabling the determination of the underlying cause of rectal discharge.
Treatment of Rectal Discharge:
The treatment for rectal discharge is based on the underlying cause. However, rectal discharge can be managed by following the given measures:
Management of Rectal Discharge:
- Sit on a toilet seat and push down like that of having a bowel movement to pass out any mucus in the rectum.
- Use a glycerin rectal suppository if the mucus does not come out naturally.
- Practice pelvic floor exercises to strengthen the pelvic muscles, to help control the leakage of mucus.
- Use skin creams, such as calmoseptine or desitin to relieve itching or skin irritation around the anus
- Wash the anal area gently with plain water and use a dry cloth to pat the skin dry to control skin irritation.
- If the rectal discharge is too bulky, use pads to avoid wetting of the undergarments and clothes
Prevention of Rectal Discharge:
The rectal discharge resulting from underlying medical causes cannot be prevented. However, the following are certain measures that help to reduce the risk of anal diseases:
- Always keep the anal area clean and dry.
- Never insert any foreign objects into the rectum.
- Always use a condom during anal intercourse.
1. Does rectal discharge lead to any complications?
If a rectal discharge is left unattended or untreated, it can result in complications, such as tissue damage, the spread of the infection, rectal prolapse (damage to the rectum), severe pain and inability to take part in everyday activities.
2. Is it normal to experience rectal discharge during pregnancy?
No, rectal discharge during pregnancy requires immediate medical attention, as it can be caused due to an underlying condition, such as sexually transmitted infection (STI), physical wound in the rectum, and bowel or gastrointestinal problems.