We are all able to identify the signal to pass stool. It usually starts at a low intensity and gradually increases until we have a bowel movement. This sensation then subsides afterwards. However, in some cases a person may not find relief after passing stool. There may still be an urging to have a bowel movement and the rectum may feel like it is full of stool for no apparent reason.
What is fullness in the rectum?
Fullness in the rectum is a symptom where a person feels that the rectum is full of stool. This sensation persists despite passing stool and emptying the bowels. It is similar to urging sensation we experience when we need to defecate. Many rectal and anal conditions present with this symptom, and in some cases it is actually stool itself that is present and has not been fully evacuated with a bowel movement.
When our rectum fills with stool, the walls of the rectum stretches and this elicits nerve impulses which signals us that we need to defecate. Upon defecating, the evacuation of the stool allows the walls to return to a normal state and this sensation subsides. However, in conditions where there a feeling of rectal fullness, the sensation persists and can be uncomfortable and disruptive in daily life.
Other Signs and Symptoms
Fullness in the rectum is a symptom and not a disease on its own. This is subjective sensation and may be accompanied by a host of other signs and symptoms, depending on the underlying cause. Some of these other signs and symptoms includes:
- Rectal bleeding
- Rectal discomfort
- Rectal discharge
- Urging to pass stool
- Painful bowel movements
- Abdominal cramps
- Changes in bowel habit – diarrhea and constipation
Causes of Rectal Fullness
There are a number of conditions that can present with rectal fullness among other symptoms. Often the associated symptoms overlap and it may be difficult to identify the exact cause. Among most of these conditions, pressure on the rectum and residual stool even after defecation are the main reasons for the sensation.
Constipation is one of the most common causes of fullness in the rectum. Although constipation is a symptom like rectal fullness, the inability to pass stool and often incomplete evacuation of the bowels leads to stool remaining in the rectum for prolonged periods. It is further compounded when complications such as fecal impaction and hemorrhoids arises.
Read more about constipation.
Although the rectum is never full for too long in diarrhea, there is a host of reasons why rectal fullness may occur. Firstly, the rectum may be inflamed depending on the cause of diarrhea. Secondly, the repeated passage of stool can irritate the rectum and anus. It may even contribute to hemorrhoids, or aggravate pre-existing hemorrhoids. The repeated wiping can also be a traumatic cause of this sensation.
Hemorrhoids (piles) is another common cause of rectal fullness. The inflamed rectal veins may present with bleeding when passing stool, itching, burning and even pain. The inflammation may stimulate nerves in the area thereby leading to the sensation that the rectum is full. Depending on the severity of symptoms, some people may be anxious about passing stool or completely evacuating the bowels.
Read more about hemorrhoids.
Fecal impaction is a complication of conditions like constipation. It arises when the stool becomes dry and hard and obstructs the rectum. This causes stool to backup in the colon if the impaction is not removed. The walls of the rectum are significantly stretched and despite efforts, a person cannot defecate. Sometimes liquid stool may pass around the mass and exit the rectum but a complete bowel movement does not occur.
Read more about fecal impaction.
Rectal fullness is a common symptom experienced by pregnant women in the latter parts of pregnancy. It arises when the enlarged uterus increases intra-abdominal pressure and pushes against various organs. It may also compound pregnancy constipation and further contribute to the sensation of fullness in the rectum. The sensation may be relieved with change in position and usually subsides after giving birth.
Read more on pregnancy constipation.
One of the more dreaded causes of rectal fullness is colorectal cancer. It is among the more common cancers that affect people in developed nations. In this cancer, the cells of the colon/rectum become abnormal, multiply aggressively and invade surrounding healthy tissue. Depending on its location, rectal fullness may be one of the symptoms that it presents with along with rectal bleeding, malaise, loss of appetite and unintentional weight loss.
Read more about colorectal cancer.
Among men, an enlarged prostate may also contribute to rectal fullness. The prostate gland sits in front of the rectum and when enlarged it can push on the rectum. This is seen with conditions like benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH) and prostatitis. It is also possible for prostate cancer to present with fullness in the rectum, depending on the site of the malignancy (cancer) and degree to which it presses against the rectum.
Read more on prostate problems.
Proctitis is a condition where the rectum is inflamed. It is more commonly due to trauma to the rectum and infections. The inflammation of the rectal walls can elicit nerve signals that give rise to the sensation of fullness in the rectum. Sometimes there are disturbances in bowel habit, like diarrhea or even constipation, which can further contribute to the sensation of rectal fullness.
Read more on proctitis.
Prolapse of the Rectum
A rectal prolapse is a condition where a portion of the rectum protrudes through the anal canal. This is seen with advancing age and repeated childbirth where the supportive tissue of the rectum is stretched or worn out. As a result a portion of the rectum can protrude through the anus especially when there is an increase in pressure like during passing stool.
Read more on prolapse rectum.
- Trauma to the rectum and anus, like with anal intercourse.
- Foreign bodies in the rectum.
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
- Irritable bowel syndrome.
- Prolonged sitting, especially when piles is a problem.