Symptoms of proctitis are different depending on the cause.
The most common symptom is that you feel a continuing urge to have a bowel movement. Your rectum could feel "full." Or you could have
constipation (unable to have a bowel movement).
You may have minor symptoms such as tenderness in the anal region and mild irritation of the rectum.
More serious symptoms may occur, such as pus and blood in discharge accompanied by severe cramps and pain during bowel movements.
If you have severe bleeding associated with proctitis, you may develop
anemia (from loss of blood). Anemia can cause you to have pale skin, irritability, weakness,
dizziness, brittle nails, and shortness of breath.
With sexually transmitted proctitis, you may have these symptoms:
- Gonorrhea (gonococcal proctitis): The primary cause appears to be anal intercourse. You may not have symptoms. If you have symptoms, you may have soreness, itching, bloody or puslike discharge, or
diarrhea. Other rectal problems may be present such as anal warts, which are
genital warts, anal tears, fistulas (abnormal passages that connect an organ or natural tube, like the rectum, to another surface), and
hemorrhoids (dilated veins in the anus).
- Syphilis (syphilitic proctitis): Symptoms are similar to those of other causes of infectious proctitis—rectal pain, discharge, and spasms during bowel movements. But you may have no symptoms. Syphilis occurs in 3 stages:
- Primary stage: A single painless sore with raised borders can be found at the site of sexual contact. These sores, or chancres, are less than an inch across. During acute stages of infection, the lymph nodes in your groin become diseased, firm, and rubbery.
- Secondary stage: Syphilis produces sores around your anus and rectum. These are wartlike growths resembling cauliflower.
- Third stage: This usually appears late in the course of syphilis and affects mostly your heart and nervous system.
- Chlamydia (chlamydial proctitis): This bacterial form of sexually transmitted proctitis may account for up to 20% of cases. You may show no symptoms, mild symptoms, or severe symptoms. Mild symptoms might be mild rectal pain with bowel movement, anal discharge, and cramping. With a severe case, you may have discharge containing blood and pus, severe rectal pain, and diarrhea. Some people may have rectal strictures, a narrowing of the rectal passageway. This narrowing might cause constipation, straining, and thin stools.
With proctitis caused by viruses, you may have these symptoms:
- Herpes simplex: The herpes simplex type 2 virus usually causes proctitis, but type 1 also can trigger the disease. As with the other causes, you may show no symptoms. Herpes proctitis is accompanied by anal pain and tenderness, discharge, and constipation. Tiny painful blisters or sores may be seen in clusters around your anus. In contrast to other causes of proctitis, if you have herpes, you also may have urinary retention and a weak stream, impotence, and pain in the buttocks and thigh.
- Anal warts: A virus known as
human papillomavirus (HPV) causes anal warts, which begin as soft, fleshy growths around the anus. These warts can extend to affect the lower part of the rectum. You may have
anal itching, varying degrees of pain, and, with time, bleeding and discharge.
- Anorectal trauma: Trauma to your anus or rectum, in which the anal and rectal linings stretch and tear, can be a potential cause of proctitis. Health care providers usually see such trauma in people who introduce any foreign object into their rectum. Foreign objects include a penis during anal intercourse or sex toys. Tiny cracks may be seen in the anal or rectal linings. It’s important to tell your health care provider if you may be at risk for this type of proctitis. Sometimes, the foreign object may still be present in the rectum. People with anorectal trauma also may have an accompanying infection as a result of high-risk sexual behavior.
- Radiation proctitis: Radiation therapy is used to treat
prostate cancer in men and cancers of the female organs such as the cervix and uterus. The rectum is close to these organs and is at risk for damage from the radiation. Radiation-induced injury to the rectum can appear in 2 ways.
- You may have diarrhea and tenesmus, which is a painful spasm of the urogenital diaphragm coupled with an urgent desire to urinate or have a bowel movement. Symptoms can occur while you receive radiation therapy or within 6 weeks after completion.
- You may have more lasting problems from radiation treatment. In addition to rectal pain and diarrhea, you may have bleeding, which signifies chronic changes of the rectal lining. This condition includes the presence of multiple tiny blood vessels on the surface of the mucous membranes in the rectum. These vessels are fragile and bleed easily as a result of minor trauma. If the bleeding is severe, you may have weakness, dizziness,
palpitations (feel your heart beating), and tiredness—all signs of
iron deficiency anemia from blood loss.
Eugene Hardin, MD, FACEP, FAAEM
Scott H Plantz, MD, FAAEM
Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD
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