Rectal tenesmus is a medical condition characterized by a spasmodic contraction and often associated with pain in the rectum, accompanied by a continuous urge to evacuate, even when an individual’s bowels are relatively empty. When an individual has tenesmus, they may strain harder to produce even the smallest quantities of fecal material during bowel movements. 

There are different reasons that may be the cause of this disorder and doctors believe that the immune system might cause inflammation of the digestive tract while fighting off an invading organism such as the presence of proctitis, colitis, anal fissures, intestinal polyps, irritable bowel syndrome, or tumors in the intestine. 

Rectal tenesmus may be accompanied by other symptoms such as abdominal cramps, abdominal pain, nausea, flatulence, gurgling, itching and/or burning of the anal region. Identifying the underlying cause and treating the condition is necessary in order to prevent further complications such as ulcers, abscesses, and anemia.


What diseases may be associated with rectal tenesmus?

Rectal tenesmus can occur even when the rectum is not inflamed. In such situations, the nerves are excessively sensitive to gas and stool in the rectum and trigger signals to the brain informing it of rectal fullness.

This condition is most commonly associated with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). During irritable bowel syndrome, the nerves in the rectum become excessively sensitive from increased constipation as well as increased gas and stool.

Other diseases that may be associated with rectal tenesmus include the following:


  • Anal cancer
  • Colon cancer
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Anxiety
  • Constipation
  • Chlamydia
  • Gonorrhea
  • Colitis
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Proctitis
  • Intestinal polyps
  • Cervical carcinoma
  • Onicofagia
  • Amoebiasis
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Ischemic colitis
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Shigellosis


Keep in mind that this list is not exhaustive and it is always a good idea to consult with a doctor regarding any questions or concerns.


What are possible treatment options for rectal tenesmus?

Specific treatment therapy for rectal tenesmus is significantly linked to the exact cause of an individual’s condition (colitis, anxiety, cancer, etc). Surgery may be required in cases involving polyps or cancer. In a greater number of cases, a simple pharmacological intervention is done and the condition is treated with certain medications and lifestyle changes. Increase of fiber and fluids in an individual’s diet can help ease constipation as well. The ultimate goal of rectal tenesmus treatment is to reduce inflammation, ease pain, relieve symptoms as well as treat infection.


When is it advised to consult with a doctor regarding rectal tenesmus? 

Consulting with a doctor is advised for individuals who have already received diagnosis of rectal tenesmus and need to be informed of the necessary steps required to act upon the condition or individuals who are at risk of a disease associated with the condition (see list of associated diseases). Also, if an individual experiences tenesmus, talking to a doctor about persistent symptoms (abdominal pain, blood in the stool, vomiting, chills, etc) may be necessary in order to prevent further complications and determine the most appropriate form of treatment for the patient’s situation. The earlier the condition is treated, the better chance an individual has of making a full recovery.