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Rectal Prolapse and Procidentia

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

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Rectal prolapse is painless protrusion of the rectum through the anus. Procidentia is complete prolapse of the entire thickness of the rectum. Diagnosis is by inspection. Surgery is usually required in adults.

Transient, minor prolapse of just the rectal mucosa often occurs in otherwise normal infants. Mucosal prolapse in adults persists and may progressively worsen.

Procidentia is complete prolapse of the entire thickness of the rectum. The primary cause of procidentia is unclear. Most patients are women > 60.

Symptoms and Signs

The most prominent symptom of rectal prolapse and procidentia is protrusion. It may only occur while straining or while walking or standing. Rectal bleeding can occur, and incontinence is frequent. Pain is uncommon unless incarceration or significant prolapse occurs.


  • Clinical evaluation

  • Sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy, or barium enema

To determine the full extent of the prolapse, the clinician should examine the patient while the patient is standing or squatting and straining. Rectal procidentia can be distinguished from hemorrhoids by the presence of circumferential mucosal folds. Anal sphincter tone is usually diminished. Sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy, or barium enema x-rays of the colon must be done to search for other disease. Primary neurologic disorders (eg, spinal cord tumors) must be ruled out.


  • Elimination of causes of straining

  • For infants and children: Sometimes strapping buttocks together

  • For adults: Sometimes surgery

In infants and children, conservative treatment is most satisfactory. Causes of straining should be eliminated. Firmly strapping the buttocks together with tape between bowel movements usually facilitates spontaneous resolution of the prolapse. For simple mucosal prolapse in adults, the excess mucosa can be excised. For procidentia, rectopexy, in which the rectum is mobilized and fixed to the sacrum, may be required. In patients who are very old or in poor health, a wire or synthetic plastic loop can encircle the sphincteric ring (Thiersch procedure). Other perineal operations (eg, Delorme or Altemeier procedure) can be considered.

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