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By Parswa Ansari, MD, Assistant Professor and Program Director in Surgery, Hofstra Northwell - Lenox Hill Hospital, New York

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Patient Education

Proctitis is inflammation of the rectal mucosa, which may result from infection, inflammatory bowel disease, or radiation. Symptoms are rectal discomfort and bleeding. Diagnosis is by sigmoidoscopy, usually with cultures and biopsy. Treatment depends on etiology.

Proctitis may be a manifestation of

Proctitis associated with prior antibiotic use may be due to Clostridium difficile.

Sexually transmitted pathogens cause proctitis more commonly among men who have sex with men. Immunocompromised patients are at particular risk of infections with herpes simplex and cytomegalovirus.

Symptoms and Signs

Typically, patients report tenesmus (a strong feeling of need to defecate when stool is not present), rectal bleeding, or passage of mucus. Proctitis resulting from gonorrhea, herpes simplex, or cytomegalovirus may cause intense anorectal pain.


  • Proctoscopy or sigmoidoscopy

  • Tests for sexually transmitted diseases and C. difficile

Diagnosis of proctitis requires proctoscopy or sigmoidoscopy, which may reveal an inflamed rectal mucosa. Small discrete ulcers and vesicles suggest herpes infection. Rectal swabs should be tested for Neisseria gonorrhoeae and Chlamydia sp (by culture or ligase chain reaction), enteric pathogens (by culture), and viral pathogens (by culture or immunoassay).

Serologic tests for syphilis and stool tests for C. difficile toxin are done. Sometimes mucosal biopsy is needed.

Colonoscopy may be valuable in some patients to rule out inflammatory bowel disease.


  • Various treatments depending on cause

Infective proctitis can be treated with antibiotics. Men who have sex with men who have nonspecific proctitis may be treated empirically with ceftriaxone 125 mg IM once (or ciprofloxacin 500 mg po bid for 7 days), plus doxycycline 100 mg po bid for 7 days. Antibiotic-associated proctitis is treated with metronidazole (250 mg po qid) or vancomycin (125 mg po qid) for 7 to 10 days.

Radiation proctitis is usually effectively treated with topical formalin carefully applied to the affected mucosa. Alternative treatments include topical corticosteroids as foam (hydrocortisone 90 mg) or enemas (hydrocortisone 100 mg or methylprednisolone 40 mg) bid for 3 wk, or mesalamine (4 g) enema at bedtime for 3 to 6 wk. Mesalamine suppositories 500 mg once/day or bid, mesalamine 800 mg po tid, or sulfasalazine 500 to 1000 mg po qid for 3 wk alone or in combination with topical therapy may also be effective. Patients unresponsive to these forms of therapy may benefit from a course of systemic corticosteroids. Various methods of coagulation have been tried, including argon plasma, lasers, electrocoagulation, and heater probes.