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Proctitis

Proctitis is an inflammation of the lining of the rectum. The rectum is a muscular tube that's connected to the end of your colon. Stool passes through the rectum on its way out of the body.

Proctitis can cause rectal pain and the continuous sensation that you need to have a bowel movement. Proctitis symptoms can be short-lived, or they can become chronic.

Proctitis is common in people who have inflammatory bowel diseases. Sexually transmitted infections are another frequent cause. Proctitis also can be a side effect of radiation therapy for certain cancers.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications Prevention

Proctitis signs and symptoms may include:

  • Frequent or continuous sensation that you need to have a bowel movement (tenesmus)
  • Rectal bleeding
  • The passing of mucus through your rectum
  • Rectal pain
  • Pain on the left side of your abdomen
  • A feeling of fullness in your rectum
  • Diarrhea
  • Pain with bowel movements

When to see a doctor

Make an appointment with your doctor if you have any signs or symptoms that worry you.

Several diseases and conditions can cause the lining of the rectum to become inflamed (proctitis). They include:

  • Inflammatory bowel diseases. About 30 percent of people with inflammatory bowel disease have inflammation of the rectum.
  • Infections. Sexually transmitted infections, spread particularly by people who engage in anal intercourse, can result in proctitis. Sexually transmitted infections that can cause proctitis include gonorrhea, genital herpes and chlamydia. Infections associated with foodborne illness, such as salmonella, shigella and campylobacter infections, can also induce proctitis.
  • Radiation therapy for cancer. Radiation therapy directed at your rectum or nearby areas can cause irritation of the lining of your rectum. Radiation proctitis can begin during radiation treatment and last for a few months after treatment. Or it can occur years after treatment.
  • Antibiotics used to treat an infection can sometimes kill helpful bacteria in the bowels, allowing the harmful Clostridium difficile bacteria to gain a foothold in the rectum.
  • Proctitis in children. Proctitis sometimes occurs in breast-fed children and in children who have strep throat. A form of proctitis caused by accumulation of a kind of white blood cell (eosinophil) in the lining of the rectum affects only children younger than 2.

Risk factors for proctitis include:

  • Behaviors that increase your risk of a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Your risk of contracting an STI increases if you have multiple sex partners, don't use condoms and have sex with a partner who has an STI.
  • Inflammatory bowel diseases. Having an inflammatory bowel disease, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease, increases your risk of proctitis.
  • Radiation therapy for cancer. Radiation therapy directed at or near your rectum (such as for rectal, ovarian or prostate cancer) increases your risk of proctitis.

Proctitis that isn't treated or that doesn't respond to treatment may lead to complications, including:

  • Anemia. Chronic bleeding from your rectum caused by proctitis can cause anemia. With anemia, you don't have enough red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to your tissues. Anemia causes you to feel tired, and you may also experience dizziness, shortness of breath, headache, pale skin and irritability.
  • Ulcers. Chronic inflammation in the rectum can lead to open sores (ulcers) on the inside lining of the rectum.
  • Fistulas. Sometimes ulcers extend completely through the intestinal wall, creating a fistula, an abnormal connection that can occur between different parts of your intestine, between your intestine and skin, or between your intestine and other organs, such as the bladder and vagina. For women, a recto-vaginal fistula can connect the rectum to the vagina, causing bowel contents to drain from the vagina.
  • Cancer. Damage to cells from radiation can increase the risk of occurrence of other cancers in the rectal area.

To reduce your risk of proctitis, take steps to protect yourself from sexually transmitted infections (SDI). The surest way to prevent SDIs is to abstain from sex, especially anal sex. If you choose to have sex, reduce your risk of SDI by:

  • Limiting your number of sex partners
  • Using a latex condom during each sexual contact
  • Not having sex with anyone who has any unusual sores or discharge in the genital area

If you're diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection, stop having sex until after you've completed treatment. That way you can avoid passing the infection to your partner. Ask your doctor when it's safe to have sex again.

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