If your consultant needs to carry out an examination of your rectum (back passage) and thinks it would be uncomfortable or painful for you, you may be given a general anaesthetic. This means you’ll be asleep during the examination so you won’t feel any discomfort. It also helps to relax the muscles around the anus making the examination easier.
A rectal examination may be required for a number of reasons. For example, if your bowel habits have changed (you’ve become constipated), if you’ve lost normal bowel function (you’ve become incontinent) or if you’ve had bleeding from the bottom.
During a rectal examination your consultant can check the anal area for any abnormalities, take a biopsy (sample) if required and carry out any treatment where appropriate. Your consultant will always discuss with you the reasons for the examination, as well as what they may need to do depending on their initial findings.
A rectal examination under anaesthetic (EUA) often includes a rigid sigmoidoscopy and/or a proctoscopy. A rigid sigmoidoscopy involves passing a small telescope into your bottom and introducing some air to allow the consultant to examine the rectum in detail.
A proctoscopy is an examination of the anus using a short telescope with a light. This helps your consultant confirm conditions such as haemorrhoids (piles), anal fistulae and anal fissures. If haemorrhoids are confirmed, these may be treated by banding at the same time. The proctoscope can be used to do this.
You’ll probably be allowed to go home on the same day as your treatment but, if you’ve had a general anaesthetic, you shouldn’t drive for 24 hours. If you’ve had a biopsy you may experience a small amount of bleeding for a few days. Generally you’ll be able to resume your normal activities, including work, within a few days.
In common with any procedure under a general anaesthetic there are some risks, and these risks will also depend on what you’re being treated for. In some cases there may be:
- infection - for which you may need to take antibiotics
- damage to the bowel - which your consultant will treat at the time
- bleeding - slight bleeding may occur following the examination
A digital rectal examination (using a finger) can be carried out by a doctor or a consultant to confirm some conditions. However, it will not reveal as much information as a rectal EUA and cannot be used to treat conditions.