Swollen Rectum Symptoms, Causes & Common Questions
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Are you experiencing swelling in your anus? A swollen anus may actually be due to a swollen rectum, since the two parts of the body are so closely related. Anal and rectal swelling range in severity, from common conditions that you can treat at home, such as hemorrhoids, to conditions that require a doctor's care, such as cellulitis. Read more below to learn what may be causing swelling around your anus and rectum, and possible treatments.
Swollen rectum symptoms explained
The rectum (and the anus) are often-overlooked body parts until there is an issue, of course. Rectal symptoms, such as swelling, can signal a serious underlying disease. The rectum is the last part of the colon (large intestine). It is where stool is held before it passes out of the anus — the body part that controls the expulsion of stool. See this image for a visual representation of the rectum and anus in relation to the colon.
Common characteristics of a swollen rectum
For example, symptoms of a swollen rectum may include:
- Pain only during defecation
- Itching or irritation in the anal region
- Palpable lumps or bumps in your anal region
- Blood in your stools/bleeding during bowel movements
- Mucous or discharge in your stools
- Tenesmus: This is a frequent urge to have a bowel movement.
Since a swollen rectum or anus can signal a serious underlying disease, it is important to pay attention to your symptoms and seek appropriate medical care.
What causes a swollen anus?
The communication that leads from the rectum to the anus is called the anal canal. The anal canal is composed of muscles (sphincters) that control the passing of feces from the rectum through the anus. There is an internal sphincter and an external sphincter. See this image for a visual representation of this anatomy.
In addition to these muscles, the anorectal area is composed of glands, arteries, veins, and nerves that control sensation and flow of fluid and blood in that area.
Conditions that affect these components can result in swelling and its associated symptoms. It is important to make an appointment with your physician in order to discuss the possible causes of your symptoms.
Vascular causes can lead to a swollen rectum, such as damaged or stressed veins. The veins in your anorectal area can become congested and swollen due to increased pressure from actions such as straining during bowel movements or conditions such as pregnancy. Swollen veins within the rectum are called internal hemorrhoids while swollen veins under the skin of the anus are called external hemorrhoids . See this image for a representation of the different kinds of hemorrhoids.
Proctitis is any condition that involves inflammation of the lining of the rectum. Proctitis often involves symptoms of pain and problems with defecation that can lead to swelling of the rectum.
- Infection: Infections of this area, in the form of sexually transmitted infections and foodborne illness, are a frequent cause of proctitis. If these infections involve the glands of the anal canal, abscesses (areas filled with pus) can develop, leading to swelling and increased pain in the anorectal area.
- Inflammatory medical conditions: Inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis) often involve the rectum. These conditions can lead to chronic irritation that results in anal abscesses that cause pain and swelling.
Anatomical causes may lead to a swollen rectum, such as the following.
- Fistula: Rarely, an abnormal anatomical communication, or fistula, can form between the anus or rectum and the skin around the anus. An anal fistula is often a result of an anal abscess that did not heal, leading to breaks in the surface of the skin.
- Prolapse: Increased pressure in combination with a weakening of the muscles of the anal canal can lead to a condition in which the rectum "slides" through the anus and protrudes through the opening. This is called a rectal prolapse. The prolapse can often look and feel like a swollen lump, as in this image.
A malignant mass in the anal canal can grow and swell leading to associated symptoms of pain,bleeding and/or itching in the anorectal area. Anal cancer rarely metastasizes (spreads) to other parts of the body.
3 swollen rectum conditions
The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced swollen rectum. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.
Hemorrhoids, also known as piles, are swollen veins in your anus and lower rectum that can cause pain, itching, and rectal bleeding. Hemorrhoids may be seen or felt on the outside of the anus (external) or may be hidden from view inside of the rectum.
Hemorrhoids are common occurring in 10 million Am..
Chronic or recurrent hemorrhoids
Chronic, or recurrent, hemorrhoids are swollen veins in the anus and rectum that never really resolve and may be symptomatic more or less constantly.
Hemorrhoids are caused by anything that puts pressure on the anus from the inside, such as straining during bowel movements; constipation; pregnancy; or anal intercourse.
Most susceptible are pregnant women and older people, though anyone can be affected.
Symptoms include a small amount of bleeding during or after a bowel movement, as well as discomfort, itching, or swelling around the anus.
A medical provider can suggest treatment to ease the symptoms of chronic hemorrhoids, as well as make certain of the diagnosis since other, more serious conditions can have symptoms similar to hemorrhoids.
Diagnosis is made through patient history and physical examination.
Treatment most often involves simple lifestyle changes such as drinking more water; adding fiber-rich foods to the diet; using fiber supplements and stool softeners; not delaying, or straining, to pass a bowel movement; and using topical medications. Surgical procedures to remove the hemorrhoid can be used in some cases.
Top Symptoms: rectal bleeding, rectal pain, pain when passing stools, anal itching, painless rectal bleeding
Symptoms that never occur with chronic or recurrent hemorrhoids: unintentional weight loss
Cellulitis is a bacterial infection of the deep layers of the skin. It can appear anywhere on the body but is most common on the feet, lower legs, and face.
The condition can develop if Staphylococcus bacteria enter broken skin through a cut, scrape, or existing skin infection such as impetigo or eczema.
Most susceptible are those with a weakened immune system, as from corticosteroids or chemotherapy, or with impaired circulation from diabetes or any vascular disease.
Symptoms arise somewhat gradually and include sore, reddened skin.
If not treated, the infection can become severe, form pus, and destroy the tissue around it. In rare cases, the infection can cause blood poisoning or meningitis.
Symptom of severe pain, fever, cold sweats, and fast heartbeat should be seen immediately by a medical provider.
Diagnosis is made through physical examination.
Treatment consists of antibiotics, keeping the wound clean, and sometimes surgery to remove any dead tissue. Cellulitis often recurs, so it is important to treat any underlying conditions and improve the immune system with rest and good nutrition.
Top Symptoms: fever, chills, facial redness, swollen face, face pain
Symptoms that always occur with cellulitis: facial redness, area of skin redness
Urgency: Primary care doctor
At-home and medical treatments for a swollen anus
Although this is a concerning issue, there are several effective home remedies that may help resolve your symptoms. If the swelling worsens or persists, however, you should consult your physician.
A swollen rectum is sometimes the result of lifestyle habits that can be easily modified in order to prevent symptoms.
- Diet modifications: Eating high-fiber foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can soften the stool and help prevent straining that often causes hemorrhoids. You can also obtain your daily dose of fiber from over-the-counter supplements such as Metamucil. Drinking an adequate amount of water can also help to keep the stools soft and regular, especially if you decide to take fiber supplements.
- Exercise: Staying active can help prevent constipation and reduce pressure on the veins that lead to hemorrhoids. Losing excess weight can also reduce extra pressure on the anorectal area.
- Do not strain or sit too long on the toilet: Both sitting and straining can increase pressure in the veins of the rectum and anus, leading to hemorrhoids.
- Practice safe sex: Getting tested regularly and using condoms can prevent sexually transmitted infections that can cause infections or abscesses in the anorectal area.
If these lifestyle changes do not help to resolve your symptoms, your rectal swelling may be due to a more serious cause such as inflammatory bowel disease or cancer. See your physician immediately if you notice symptoms that persist. Your physician may suggest treatment such as:
- Anti-inflammatory drugs: These types of drugs are often the first step in the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease. Your physician may also use immune system-suppressing drugs to reduce substances that may trigger inflammation.
- Antibiotics: Depending on the type of infection, your physician may prescribe antibiotics to heal fistulas and subsequent abscesses.
- Combined chemotherapy and radiation: For anal cancer, your physician will begin treatment with a combination of chemotherapy and radiation.
- Surgery: Surgery is the primary treatment for rectal prolapse as well as early-stage anal cancers.
Questions your doctor may ask about swollen rectum
- Have you had any changes in your weight?
- Do your symptoms worsen when sitting?
- Do you have a history of constipation?
- Do you have a rash?
Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.
Dr. Gambrah-Lyles is a resident pediatrician at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. She is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine (2019). She graduated cum laude and received her undergraduate degree in Biochemistry and Spanish from Washington University in St. Louis (2013). Her research explores the intersections between neurology, public health, and infectious disease. She has investigated nutrition and cerebral palsy in Botswana, and completed a year-long project in Brazil, researching growth and developmental outcomes of Zika virus infection in pediatric patients as a Doris Duke International Scholar. Dr. Gambrah-Lyles speaks four languages, loves staying active, and enjoys sharing her love for medicine through teaching and writing.
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- Pendick D. 6 Self-Help Tips for Hemorrhoid Flare-Ups. Harvard Medical School: Harvard Health Publishing. Updated October 26, 2018. Harvard Health Publishing Link