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Rectal prolapse

Key points

  • Rectal prolapse occurs when the wall of your rectum (back passage), or part of its lining, protrudes through your anus.
  • Rectal prolapse is often associated with having weak pelvic muscles, which can be the result of various conditions.
  • The only way to effectively treat a full-thickness rectal prolapse is to have surgery.

This section contains answers to frequently asked questions about this topic. Questions have been suggested by health professionals, website feedback and requests via email.

How common is rectal prolapse?

Answer

The exact number of people with rectal prolapse is difficult to estimate as many people with the condition may not tell their GP about it.

Explanation

Rectal prolapse is a condition that’s often under-reported. This is because many people who have it don't tell their doctor about it, especially those who are older. Rectal prolapse in adults most commonly affects women over 50.

Rectal prolapse can also affect children. However, this is fairly uncommon and normally only affects children under the age of three.

If you or your child has a rectal prolapse, it's important to see your GP. If you don't get treatment, rectal prolapse can lead to bleeding and incontinence. If you have a severe prolapse, it can get strangulated. A strangulated prolapse is when parts of your rectum become squashed, cutting off the blood supply and causing the protruding mass of tissue to die. If this happens, you must seek urgent medical attention.

In children, rectal prolapse usually gets better on its own without treatment once your child has developed good bowel habits. In adults, surgery is often the only option to correct a prolapsed rectum.

If you have any further questions or concerns about rectal prolapse, talk to your GP.

How long does it take to recover after surgery to treat rectal prolapse?

Answer

The length of time it will take you to recover after surgery to treat rectal prolapse will depend on the type of operation you have. It will also depend on your general health. It's important to remember that our bodies are all different and we all heal at different rates.

Explanation

There are two different types of procedure that are used to treat rectal prolapse: abdominal procedures and perineal procedures. The operation will involve your surgeon either making a cut in your abdomen (one cut or a number of smaller cuts), or around the prolapse itself. Your surgeon will advise you on the most suitable type of operation for you.

Generally, people who have a perineal procedure have less pain and usually spend less time in hospital (one to three days). This compares to three to seven days for those having an abdominal procedure. However, if your surgeon uses keyhole surgery on your abdomen, it may take less time to heal.

How long it will take you to fully recover from your operation will very much depend on your individual circumstances. Talk to your surgeon about what to expect before you have your operation.

What's the difference between rectal prolapse and piles?

Answer

Rectal prolapse and piles (haemorrhoids) are both conditions that affect the last section of your bowel. Rectal prolapse affects the rectal wall or lining, whereas piles affect the blood vessels in your anal canal. However, both conditions can have similar symptoms. It's important to get the right diagnosis from your GP or specialist as the treatment for each differs.

Explanation

Rectal prolapse is when the wall of your rectum or part of the wall protrudes through your anus. The rectum is the last section of your bowel where faeces collect before passing through your anus as a bowel movement.

Piles are round swellings on the inside of the anal canal in areas known as the anal cushions. The anal canal is the short section that connects your rectum with your anus. The swellings are caused by swollen blood vessels in the anal cushions.

Both conditions may cause a lump or mass of tissue to drop out through your anus when you have a bowel movement. With piles, the mass will normally be smaller but it’s possible to mistake large piles for a rectal prolapse and vice versa. In both conditions, the tissue may go back in again once you've finished your bowel movement. But for some people, it may be necessary to push the mass back inside. You may also have some bleeding and pain when you have a bowel movement, as well as a slimy discharge that may soil your underwear.

The conditions do differ in the groups of people they affect. Rectal prolapse mainly affects older people, especially women and sometimes young children under the age of three. Piles can affect people at any age but are most common in people between 45 and 65.

It's important to get a diagnosis from your GP early to prevent any complications or your symptoms getting worse.

You can treat piles with self-help measures, such as increasing the amount of fibre in your diet and drinking enough water. You can also buy medicines or have banding treatment or surgery. In adults, rectal prolapse can usually only be treated effectively with surgery. In children, rectal prolapse usually gets better after they get into a good bowel habit. You can ensure this by giving your child plenty of fruit and vegetables in their diet and making sure they eat foods that contain fibre. Also make sure your child drinks enough water.

If you have any questions or concerns about rectal prolapse or piles, talk to your GP.

 

Reviewed by Rachael Mayfield-Blake, Bupa Health Information Team, October 2013.

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  • This information was published by Bupa's Health Information Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals. Photos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition. The content is intended only for general information and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional. For more details on how we produce our content and its sources, visit the about our health information page.

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