Is Rectal Prolapse Dangerous?

Rectal prolapse brings with it some distressing side effects.

Symptoms like leaking feces or the inability to control your bowel movements can cause embarrassing situations, and may cause you to limit your social life and work life. It can even have an impact on your mental health and in some cases prolapse is linked to depression.1

If you’re living with this condition, you may also wonder: is rectal prolapse dangerous? Here are some answers.

What is Rectal Prolapse?

Prolapse is a condition that occurs when the pelvic floor weakens. The group of muscles and ligaments known as the pelvic floor span the bottom of your pelvis and support your pelvic organs, such as your uterus, bladder and bowel. When pelvic floor muscles weaken, that can create problems with bladder and bowel control.2

Pelvic floor health is important because these muscles lift the internal organs of the pelvis, and tighten the openings of the vagina, anus and urethra. Control of those muscles includes relaxing them to allow passage of urine and feces.7

When those muscles are damaged or weakened and can’t provide that support, the condition of prolapse sometimes occurs. Pelvic organ prolapse is when one or more of your pelvic organs drops.3 Rectal prolapse occurs when the rectum drops out of its normal place within the body and pushes out of the anal opening.4

In the early stages, a prolapse may happen only after a bowel movement, but over time, it can become more severe.4

What Happens When You Have Rectal Prolapse?

It’s uncertain what causes rectal prolapse. It’s often believed that rectal prolapse occurs after a woman has been through childbirth, but about one-third of women with the condition have never had children.5

Here are the possible symptoms of rectal prolapse:5

  1. A reddish mass comes out of the anus, often while straining during a bowel movement. This mass may slip back inside the anus, or it may remain visible.
  2. You are unable to control bowel movements, which is called fecal incontinence.
  3. You may suffer from either constipation or diarrhea.
  4. You may leak blood or mucus from the rectum.
  5. You might feel that your rectum isn’t empty, even after a bowel movement.

Is Rectal Prolapse Dangerous?

While rectal prolapse may cause discomfort, it’s rarely a medical emergency. Rectal prolapse can sometimes be treated with stool softeners, suppositories and other medications. But surgery is usually needed to treat rectal prolapse. Sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish rectal prolapse from hemorrhoids, making proper diagnosis important.6

Estimates put the numbers of people with rectal prolapse at about 2.5 out of every 1000. While it isn’t urgently serious, it can cause discomfort for some people. It can also get worse, and lead to possible complications down the road, such as fecal incontinence or rectal ulcers.7

A more serious complication occurs when the rectum gets stuck hanging out of your anus and can’t be pushed back in. Known as “incarceration,” there is a health danger in this side effect—it could become cut off from blood supply which can  lead to tissue decay and death of the rectum.7

So while rectal prolapse may not be dangerous at first, it will likely continue to get worse over time. Even though it’s not a medical emergency, it’s worth looking after as soon as you suspect you have a prolapse.7

See a Doctor

If you think you have rectal prolapse, see a doctor for a proper diagnosis. In particular, seek medical attention immediately if you have a fever, chills, redness, swelling, bleeding or discharge.4 

Treatment for rectal prolapse usually involves surgery, but there are other treatment options available, including therapies for constipation. Your doctor will consider your age, physical condition and bowel function and work with you to choose the best approach.6 Use our Physician Finder to find a doctor near you with expertise in women’s health to help with your prolapse concerns.