What is rectal discharge?
Rectal discharge is the release of any discharge from the anus that is not stool or blood. Rectal discharge can occur for many reasons, including anal fissure, anal fistula (an abnormal connection between two organs) or abscess, other infections including sexually transmitted diseases, or chronic inflammatory diseases.
An anal fissure is a small tear in the lining of the anal canal. An anal abscess is an infected, pus-filled cavity. An anal fistula, which is an abnormal connection between the anus and surrounding tissues, can develop from an anal abscess if the infection spreads.
Rectal discharge may also be related to some inflammatory disorders, such as inflammatory bowel disease, which is characterized by chronic inflammation of the lower intestinal tract that may involve the rectal area.
In some cases, rectal discharge may occur with other symptoms that might indicate a serious condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have rectal discharge along with other serious symptoms, including high fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit), rectal bleeding, severe pain, or drainage of pus from the rectum.
What other symptoms might occur with rectal discharge?
Rectal discharge may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition.
Gastrointestinal symptoms that may occur along with rectal discharge
Rectal discharge may accompany other symptoms affecting the gastrointestinal system including:
- Abdominal pain or cramping
- Abdominal swelling, distention or bloating
- Bloody stool (blood may be red, black, or tarry in texture)
- Burning feeling
- Change in bowel habits
- Fecal incontinence (inability to control stools)
- Pain, which may be severe, in the abdomen, pelvis, or lower back
- Urgent need to pass stool
- Watery diarrhea including multiple episodes
Other symptoms that may occur along with rectal discharge
Rectal discharge may accompany symptoms related to other body systems including:
Symptoms that might indicate a serious condition
In some cases, rectal discharge may occur with other symptoms that might indicate a serious condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have rectal discharge along with other serious symptoms including:
What causes rectal discharge?
Rectal discharge can occur for many reasons including anal fissure, anal abscess or fistula, other infections, or chronic diseases.
Common causes of rectal discharge
Common causes of rectal discharge include:
- Anal fissure
- Fecal impaction
- Food intolerance
- Gastroenteritis (bacterial and viral)
- Medication side effects from medications such as orlistat (Alli, Xenical)
Serious or life-threatening causes of rectal discharge
Serious or life-threatening causes of rectal discharge include:
- Inflammatory bowel disease (includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis)
- Neurological damage
- Perirectal or perianal abscess
- Sexually transmitted diseases
Questions for diagnosing the cause of rectal discharge
To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care provider will ask you several questions related to your rectal discharge including:
- When did you first notice your rectal discharge?
- What foods are in your diet?
- Do you have any other symptoms?
- What medications are you taking?
What are the potential complications of rectal discharge?
Because rectal discharge can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care provider design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:
- Inability to participate normally in activities
- Severe discomfort or pain
- Spread of infection
- Worsening of inflammatory bowel disease
- Worsening of sexually transmitted disease