A digital rectal examination (DRE) is a simple procedure doctors use to examine the lower rectum and other internal organs. A DRE is done for a number of reasons. It’s a quick, easy way to check the health of a man’s prostate gland. It can also help to detect conditions such as an enlarged prostate (benign prostatic hyperplasia) or prostate cancer. Of course knowing how to prepare and what to expect can make the experience less uncomfortable. Although the idea of a rectal exam might be embarrassing or even unpleasant, it’s very important to follow through with any exams your doctor might recommend.
How To Prepare
Very little preparation is required before a digital rectal exam. However, be sure to let your doctor know if you have any existing conditions that could affect the exam or cause you additional discomfort. These might include:
- Tears or injury to the anal area
- Anal fissures
If your doctor is aware these issues beforehand, he can be sure to take your comfort into account while administering the exam.
Questions To Ask Your Doctor
Before having a DRE, consider asking your doctor the following questions:
- What will happen during the DRE?
- How long will the procedure take?
- Will it be painful?
- How accurate is a DRE at finding cancer?
- When will I learn the results of the DRE? How will they be communicated to me?
- Who will explain the results to me?
What To Expect During The Exam
A DRE is generally not painful and only takes a few minutes to complete. You will be asked to take off your clothes below the waist and will be given a gown to wear or a cloth to wrap around you. You will then be asked to either stand and bend forward at the waist or lie on your side on an exam table with your knees pulled up to your chest in the fetal position. Your doctor will then gently insert a gloved, lubricated finger into your anus.
This allows them to feel for any abnormalities. Men who may have an enlarged or inflamed prostate may feel pain or the urge to urinate during the exam. This is because your doctor is applying firm pressure on the prostate. Once the examination is complete your doctor will discuss their findings with you.
A small amount of bleeding from the rectum may occur after an examination, especially if hemorrhoids or anal fissures are present. In rare cases, you may feel lightheaded and faint. This feeling is called vasovagal syncope and is caused by fear or pain when your doctor puts a finger into the rectum. Vasovagal syncope is more likely to occur if you are standing up.
What The Results Mean
A normal finding means your doctor didn’t detect any problem during the exam. However, this test does not rule out all problems and additional testing may be required. Abnormal findings may include:
- enlargement of the prostate gland or growths or tumours in the prostate gland (in men)
- hemorrhoids, polyps, a small cauliflower-like growth on a mucous membrane, such as the lining of the colon or bladder, fissures or other problems in the rectum
- growths or tumours, such as cancer in the rectum
If you experience anything unusual following your examination, which can include abdominal or rectal pain, or bleeding from the rectum, contact your doctor immediately.