Rectal prolapse often used to mean complete rectal prolapse (external rectal prolapse), where the rectal walls have prolapsed to a degree where they protrude out the anus and are visible outside the body. However, most researchers agree that there are 3 to 5 different types of rectal prolapse, depending on if the prolapsed section is visible externally, and if the full or only partial thickness of the rectal wall is involved.
Rectal prolapse may occur without any symptoms, but depending upon the nature of the prolapse there may be mucous discharge (mucus coming from the anus), rectal bleeding, degrees of fecal incontinence and obstructed defecationsymptoms.
Rectal prolapse is generally more common in elderly women, although it may occur at any age and in either sex. It is very rarely life-threatening, but the symptoms can be debilitating if left untreated. Most external prolapse cases can be treated successfully, often with a surgical procedure. Internal prolapses are traditionally harder to treat and surgery may not be suitable for many patients.
Surgery is thought to be the only option to potentially cure a complete rectal prolapse. For people with medical problems that make them unfit for surgery, and those who have minimal symptoms, conservative measures may be beneficial. Dietary adjustments, including increasing dietary fiber may be beneficial to reduce constipation, and thereby reduce straining. A bulk forming agent (e.g. psyllium) or stool softener can also reduce constipation.
Surgery is often required to prevent further damage to the anal sphincters. The goals of surgery are to restore the normal anatomy and to minimize symptoms. There is no globally agreed consensus as to which procedures are more effective, and there have been over 50 different operations described.
Surgical approaches in rectal prolapse can be either perineal or abdominal. A perineal approach (or trans-perineal) refers to surgical access to the rectum and sigmoid colon via incision around the anus and perineum (the area between the genitals and the anus). Abdominal approach (trans-abdominal approach) involves the surgeon cutting into theabdomen and gaining surgical access to the pelvic cavity. Procedures for rectal prolapse may involve fixation of the bowel (rectopexy), or resection (a portion removed), or both.Trans-anal (endo-anal) procedures are also described where access to the internal rectum is gained through the anus.