What Is The Difference Between Rectal Prolapse And Hemorrhoids

Rectal prolapse and hemorrhoids are two common yet distinct conditions that affect the lower digestive tract. Although they may present similar symptoms, understanding their differences is crucial for effective management and treatment. Each condition impacts patients differently, with specific causes, symptoms, and treatments.

Rectal prolapse involves the displacement of part or all of the rectum’s lining through the anus. On the other hand, hemorrhoids are swollen veins located around the lower rectum and anus. While rectal prolapse often requires surgical intervention, hemorrhoids can frequently be treated with lifestyle changes and over-the-counter remedies.

Discussing these conditions openly can demystify symptoms and encourage affected individuals to seek appropriate medical care. Early diagnosis and treatment improve the quality of life and can prevent potential complications, highlighting the importance of medical awareness and timely intervention.

Definition and Basics

Rectal Prolapse

What is Rectal Prolapse?

Rectal prolapse is a medical condition where the rectum, which is the final section of the large intestine, becomes displaced and slips outside the anus. This can occur partially or fully, leading to a visible protrusion from the anal opening.

Brief Description of the Condition

Rectal prolapse is often characterized by the feeling of a bulging mass from the anal region. The severity can vary widely, from minor protrusions that rectify themselves, to severe cases where manual intervention is necessary to reposition the rectum. Patients might experience discomfort, pain, and interference with normal bowel functions.


What are Hemorrhoids?

Hemorrhoids, also known as piles, are swollen veins located in the lowest part of the rectum and the anus. Similar to varicose veins, they can develop inside the rectum (internal hemorrhoids) or under the skin around the anus (external hemorrhoids).

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Brief Description of the Condition

These swollen blood vessels can cause a range of symptoms, depending on their location and severity. Typical signs include bleeding during bowel movements, itching, discomfort, and swelling around the anal area. Hemorrhoids are very common and are often linked to increased pressure in the lower rectum.


Causes of Rectal Prolapse

Common Causes

  • Chronic Constipation: Frequent straining during bowel movements creates pressure that can lead to prolapse.
  • Childbirth: The intense strain and pressure of childbirth can weaken pelvic muscles, contributing to prolapse in women.
  • Aging: Natural weakening of the rectum’s support structures and muscles as part of aging can lead to prolapse.

Risk Factors

  • Neurological Conditions: Diseases that affect nerve function, such as multiple sclerosis or spinal cord abnormalities, can increase the risk.
  • Previous Surgeries: Pelvic surgery can weaken the muscles and structures that support the rectum.

Causes of Hemorrhoids

Common Causes

  • Straining During Bowel Movements: This is one of the most common causes, often related to constipation.
  • Pregnancy: The increased pressure in the abdomen during pregnancy can cause veins to swell.
  • Heavy Lifting: Frequent heavy lifting can also increase abdominal pressure and lead to hemorrhoids.

Risk Factors

  • Age: The risk increases as the tissue supporting the veins in the rectum and anus weakens over time.
  • Chronic Diarrhea or Constipation: Both conditions lead to prolonged straining and can increase the risk.
  • Obesity: Excessive body weight can increase pelvic pressure, contributing to the development of hemorrhoids.


Symptoms of Rectal Prolapse

Key Symptoms

  • Visible Protrusion: The most obvious sign is a soft, red mass that protrudes from the anus, especially after bowel movements.
  • Pain and Discomfort: Activities like sitting or walking can become painful.
  • Fecal Incontinence: Difficulty controlling bowel movements is a common symptom.

When to Seek Medical Advice

Medical consultation is crucial when any part of the rectum is visible externally or if there is pain, bleeding, or changes in bowel habits. Early medical intervention can prevent complications and improve outcomes.

Symptoms of Hemorrhoids

Key Symptoms

  • Bleeding: Non-painful bleeding during bowel movements is a common symptom, usually noticed as bright red blood on toilet paper or in the toilet bowl.
  • Anal Itching or Irritation: Swollen hemorrhoids can cause mucus discharge that leads to itching.
  • Pain or Discomfort: This is more common with external hemorrhoids, especially when sitting.
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When to Seek Medical Advice

It is important to see a healthcare provider if home treatments do not relieve symptoms, if there is significant bleeding, or if the hemorrhoids do not improve over a week. Seeking early treatment can help manage symptoms more effectively and prevent further issues.


Diagnosing Rectal Prolapse

Medical Tests

To accurately diagnose rectal prolapse, doctors may use several tests:

  • Rectal Exam: This initial assessment helps visualize the prolapse.
  • Defecography: An imaging test that examines how well the rectum empties during a bowel movement.
  • Colonoscopy: This test checks for other potential issues in the colon.

Diagnosis Process

The diagnosis of rectal prolapse typically involves:

  1. Medical History Review: Understanding symptoms and any prior health issues.
  2. Physical Examination: Observing the prolapsed area.
  3. Functional Tests: Assessing muscle tone and nerve function around the rectum.

Diagnosing Hemorrhoids

Medical Tests

Diagnosing hemorrhoids often includes:

  • Digital Rectal Exam: The doctor examines the lower rectum to feel for swollen blood vessels.
  • Anoscopy: A small scope is used to view the walls of the anus and rectum.

Diagnosis Process

The process for diagnosing hemorrhoids follows a straightforward path:

  1. Discuss Symptoms: Patients describe their symptoms and bowel habits.
  2. Visual Inspection: Checking for external hemorrhoids.
  3. Instrumental Inspection: Internal hemorrhoids may be inspected with an anoscope.

Treatment Options

Treatment for Rectal Prolapse

Non-surgical Methods

Non-surgical treatments include:

  • Pelvic Floor Exercises: Strengthening the muscles supporting the rectum.
  • Stool Softeners: Reducing strain during bowel movements.

Surgical Options

Surgical treatments vary based on the prolapse severity:

  • Rectopexy: Securing the rectum to the lower backbone to prevent movement.
  • Resection: Removing a segment of the rectum to reduce the chances of prolapse.

Treatment for Hemorrhoids

At-home Treatments

Effective home remedies include:

  • Warm Sitz Baths: Soothing irritated tissue.
  • High-fiber Diet: Helping prevent constipation and strain.

Medical Interventions

More advanced cases may require:

  • Rubber Band Ligation: Cutting off blood flow to the hemorrhoid.
  • Surgical Removal: In severe cases, removing the hemorrhoid.

Prevention Tips

Preventing Rectal Prolapse

Lifestyle Changes

Key lifestyle modifications include:

  • Regular Exercise: Maintaining good pelvic floor strength.
  • Adequate Hydration: Keeping stools soft to lessen straining.
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Medical Advice

Routine check-ups can help manage risks related to rectal prolapse.

Preventing Hemorrhoids

Lifestyle Changes

Effective changes to reduce risk are:

  • Avoiding Long Sitting Periods: Reducing pressure on the pelvic region.
  • Proper Lifting Techniques: Avoiding strain from incorrect lifting.

Dietary Tips

A diet high in fiber supports bowel health and reduces hemorrhoid risks.

Impact on Quality of Life

Living with Rectal Prolapse

Daily Life Adjustments

Adjusting daily activities can manage prolapse symptoms:

  • Wearing Support Garments: Providing extra support to the pelvic area.
  • Managing Bowel Movements: Using prescribed stool softeners to ease discomfort.

Managing Symptoms

Regular follow-ups with healthcare providers ensure symptoms are controlled.

Living with Hemorrhoids

Daily Life Adjustments

Changes to lessen symptoms include:

  • Using Cushions: Reducing pressure on the affected area while sitting.
  • Maintaining Hygiene: Keeping the anal area clean to prevent irritation.

Managing Discomfort

Effective management involves:

  • Applying Cold Packs: Reducing swelling and pain.
  • Using Topical Treatments: Alleviating itching and discomfort.

Frequently Asked Questions

What causes rectal prolapse?

Rectal prolapse can result from a combination of factors such as long-term constipation, the strain during bowel movements, and weakening of the pelvic muscles with age. It is more commonly seen in older adults and women who have had multiple childbirths.

How can I differentiate between hemorrhoids and rectal prolapse?

While both conditions involve discomfort in the anal area, rectal prolapse is characterized by the bulging of the rectum through the anus, which can be visibly seen or felt as a protruding mass. In contrast, hemorrhoids are usually internal or external swellings or lumps around the anus and do not involve prolapse of the rectum.

Are there any home remedies for hemorrhoids?

Yes, several home remedies can help manage the symptoms of hemorrhoids, including warm sitz baths, applying over-the-counter creams or suppositories, and increasing dietary fiber intake to ease bowel movements. However, persistent or very painful hemorrhoids should be evaluated by a healthcare provider.

Can rectal prolapse lead to complications?

Yes, if left untreated, rectal prolapse can lead to complications such as fecal incontinence, chronic constipation, or even obstruction of the bowel. It is important to consult a healthcare professional if rectal prolapse is suspected.


Recognizing the differences between rectal prolapse and hemorrhoids is vital for accessing the correct treatment and managing symptoms effectively. These conditions, while manageable, can significantly affect one’s quality of life if not addressed appropriately.

Encouraging discussions around such common health issues can reduce stigma and promote proactive health management. If you suspect you are suffering from either condition, consulting with a healthcare provider can lead to a clearer diagnosis and a tailored treatment plan, paving the way for improved health outcomes and comfort.

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