Rectal Prolapse - Treatment, complications and outlook

Authored by Dr Laurence Knott, 02 Jun 2017

Patient is a certified member of
The Information Standard

Reviewed by:
Dr Helen Huins, 02 Jun 2017

Treatment without surgery

  • A prolapse which is small and/or has only recently occurred can sometimes be pushed back using pressure from your hand. If doing this is painful, a doctor may be required to do this after giving you a sedative and a local anaesthetic injection to numb the area.
  • Make sure you sort out any underlying cause such as constipation or diarrhoea.
  • If the prolapse cannot be pushed back you will need the attention of a surgeon.
  • A partial prolapse (in which it's only the lining of the bowel that pops out) can usually be treated without surgery although sometimes the extra tissue needs to be trimmed off.
  • In children, the prolapse can usually be gently pushed back using a lubricant gel. You need to make sure your child has a high-fibre diet and doesn't strain when they go to the loo. Sometimes a laxative is required. Very occasionally an injection that shrinks tissue (a sclerosant) has to be given.
  • Most elderly people can cope by pushing the prolapse back themselves. However, sometimes a rubber ring is inserted under the skin to keep the prolapse in place. This is not very successful as it is often too tight (causing constipation) or too loose (causing the prolapse to poke out again).

Surgical treatment

Surgery for adults

  • If your prolapse can't be pushed back and the blood supply has been cut off you will need emergency surgery. This involves removing the prolapse and part of the lower bowel (a rectosigmoidectomy).
  • A prolapse involving just the lining (mucosa) of the bowel is treated by removing the excess mucosa. This is basically identical to surgery for a pile (haemorrhoidectomy). Staples are sometimes used instead of conventional cutting with a scalpel.
  • Abdominal surgery involving opening the tummy. The basic procedure is called a rectopexy, which involves placing the lower part of the bowel (the rectum) back into its original position and fixing it so it doesn't slip down again. Various methods are used to prevent slippage, including sutures, staples, slings and shortening the stretched bowel. Surgeons are starting to use a laparoscope - a thin telescope with a light source - for some of these procedures. The instrument is passed through a small hole in the tummy, resulting in a smaller scar than you would get with conventional surgery.
  • Perineal procedures - these involve surgery in the area of the perineum which is located between the anus and testicles in men or the anus and lower part of the vagina in women. Variations include:
    • Circling the anus with wire (Thiersch's wiring procedure).
    • Stripping some of the lining of the bowel off the prolapse, bunching up the bowel muscles with stitches, then replacing the lining (Delorme's mucosal sleeve resection).

Surgery for children

  • This is usually reserved for children aged under 4 years who have failed to respond to non-surgical treatment for more than a year.
  • Surgery may also be used where the prolapse keeps coming back, becomes painful or where ulcers or bleeding develop.
  • Lots of different methods are used including:
    • Injections to cause scarring around the rectum.
    • Insertion of a sling to support the rectum.
    • Use of mesh gauze to pack around the rectum and the use of a hot probe called a cautery.
    • Opening the tummy (abdomen) to reposition the rectum.
    • Placing a suture inside the rectum so that scar tissue sticks it to the tail bone (the sacrum).
  • As with adult surgery, some of these techniques are now being done through a laparoscope.

Studies suggest that there is no difference in success rate whichever surgical procedure is used. Your surgeon will discuss the best option, taking on board your age, general health, previous experience with anaesthetics and how long you have had your prolapse. In general, young fit people are better off having a procedure through the tummy (abdomen). Older people may be more suited to perineal operations which can be done under local anaesthetic. There's more of a chance of the prolapse coming back but less risk to your health if you're a bit frail.

Complications include:

  • Ulcers in the lining (mucosa) of the lower part of the bowel (the rectum).
  • Death of tissue (necrosis) of the wall of the rectum.
  • Bleeding and breakdown (dehiscence) of tissue where two bits of bowel have been stitched together. These are the most common complications after surgery.

The outlook (prognosis) will depend on your age, on whether you have any untreatable causes for the prolapse and on the state of your general health.

About 1 in 10 children who have a rectal prolapse will continue to have it when they grow up, especially if they are aged over 4 years when they first develop it.

Further reading and references

  • Murphy PB, Wanis K, Schlachta CM, et al; Systematic review on recent advances in the surgical management of rectal prolapse. Minerva Chir. 2017 Feb72(1):71-80. doi: 10.23736/S0026-4733.16.07205-9. Epub 2016 Oct 6.

  • Shin EJ; Surgical treatment of rectal prolapse. J Korean Soc Coloproctol. 2011 Feb27(1):5-12. doi: 10.3393/jksc.2011.27.1.5. Epub 2011 Feb 28.

  • Yang SJ, Yoon SG, Lim KY, et al; Laparoscopic Vaginal Suspension and Rectopexy for Rectal Prolapse. Ann Coloproctol. 2017 Apr33(2):64-69. doi: 10.3393/ac.2017.33.2.64. Epub 2017 Apr 28.

  • Sarmast MH, Askarpour S, Peyvasteh M, et al; Rectal prolapse in children: a study of 71 cases. Prz Gastroenterol. 201510(2):105-7. doi: 10.5114/pg.2015.49003. Epub 2015 Feb 10.

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