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What causes tenesmus? 8 possible conditions

What Is Tenesmus?

Tenesmus refers to cramping, rectal pain. Tenesmus gives you the feeling that you need to have a bowel movement, even if you already have had one. When you have tenesmus, you might strain harder to produce only a small amount of stool during bowel movements.

What Causes This Symptom?

Tenesmus is most often caused by one of a number of inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs). An IBD causes long-term inflammation in all or some parts of your gastrointestinal (GI) tract or digestive tract. The most common forms of IBD are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

Both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis cause you to have ulcerations in your GI tract. These ulcers cause scarring along the walls of your digestive organs. This scarring can make it harder for you to pass your stool normally, which can lead to tenesmus. If you have Crohn’s disease, these ulcer ations can spread throughout your GI tract. In the case of ulcerative colitis, these ulcers are located only in your colon and rectum.

What causes these inflammatory bowel diseases is not known, but genetics and the immune system are thought to play a part. Doctors believe your immune system might cause your digestive tract to become inflamed while fighting off an invading organism. You’re more likely to develop IBD if you also have a relative with the disease. However, a genetic history of IBD does not guarantee that you will develop an inflammatory bowel disease .

Less Common Causes

Though inflammatory bowel diseases are the most common causes of tenesmus, your symptom could be caused by a number of other conditions. Certain movement or motility disorders of the GI tract can cause problems when you try to pass a stool. Some of the most common motility disorders are constipation and diarrhea. Constipation is a problem that occurs when there is difficulty during bowel movements. The condition might also cause a lack of bowel movements. Constipation can lead to straining and infrequent bowel movements. Other possible causes include:

  • colon cancer
  • rectal abscesses
  • colon infection

When Should I Call My Doctor?

If you experience tenesmus often, talk to your doctor about your symptoms. Also, tell your doctor if you’re having abdominal pain or blood in your stool. Make sure you report vomiting, a fever, or chills to your doctor as well.

What Can Be Done About My Symptom?

If you are struggling with tenesmus, there are a number of treatment options available. In most cases, your symptom can be relieved using home remedies.

Treatment at Home

If an IBD or motility disorder is causing your symptoms, you can help relieve your cramps and discomfort by making some diet and lifestyle changes. Eating a diet that is high in fiber is one of the best ways to relieve your tenesmus. Eating at least 20 grams of fiber every day will make your stool softer and add weight to it. This helps your body pass the stool more easily. If you have ulcers or scarring in your GI tract, you should be able to pass a softer stool more easily and with less pain. Drinking enough water is important in making sure your stool is soft as well.

Physical activity stimulates movement in your intestines. Exercising regularly can help your tenesmus by helping your intestines move your waste through your GI tract. These home treatment options also double as great tenesmus prevention methods.

Medical Treatment

Depending on the cause of your tenesmus, medical treatment may vary.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Medical treatment of IBD is aimed at stopping the inflammation that causes your symptoms. Because of this, anti-inflammatory drugs that reduce your inflammation are usually the first step in treatment. Medications that lower your immune system might also be used when treating IBD. Antibiotics might be prescribed, depending on your particular case. Doctors believe that antibiotics help kill bacteria in your intestines that could be causing your IBD and tenesmus.

Motility Disorders

If diarrhea has caused your tenesmus, your doctor might treat your condition with antibiotics. Antibiotics are effective in fighting bacteria and parasites, but if a virus is the cause of your diarrhea antibiotics won’t be effective . Your doctor might take you off certain medications if they cause your diarrhea.

If constipation led to your tenesmus, laxatives and medications that help add water to your stool might be an option for you. In more severe cases, your doctor might break up the compacted stool manually. This is done by breaking up the stool using his or her finger.

Article Sources:

  • Constipation. (2011, January 14 ). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved July 11, 2012, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/constipation/DS00063
  • Crohn’s disease. (2011, August 9 ). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved July 10, 2012, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/crohns-disease/DS00104
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). (2011, October 4 ). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved July 10, 2012, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/inflammatory-bowel-disease/DS01195
  • Motility Disorders of the Large Intestine. (2010, February 7 ). a boutgi Motility.org. Retrieved July 10, 2012, from http://www.aboutgimotility.org/site/about-gi-motility/disorders-of-the-large-intestine/
  • Tenesmus. (2010, July 7 ). National Center for Biotechnology Information. Retrieved July 11, 2012, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0003618/
  • Ulcerative colitis. (2011, October 4 ). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved July 10, 2012, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/ulcerative-colitis/DS00598
Read More

See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.


Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Find information on inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), including symptoms, causes, types, risk factors, diagnosis, treatment options, and prevention.

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Ulcerative Colitis

Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory bowel disease. It occurs when the lining of the large intestine (colon or bowel) and the rectum become inflamed.

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Crohn’s Disease

Crohn's disease is a chronic bowel disease that causes severe inflammation of the digestive tract. It is associated with abdominal pain, diarrhea, and may affect your quality of life. Crohn's disease is characterized b...

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Anal Cancer

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Anal/Rectal Abscess

An anal, or rectal, abscess occurs when a cavity in the anus becomes filled with pus. In addition to pain, it can cause fatigue, rectal discharge, and fever.

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Colitis is inflammation of the colon, often causing discomfort and pain in the abdomen, as well as other gastrointestinal symptoms. Colitis has many possible causes, which determine the type.

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Radiation Enteritis

Radiation is used in the treatment of cancer and comes with risks. Radiation enteritis is one of these risks. This condition is caused by the inflammation of your small intestine from radiation treatments in you...

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Chlamydia Infection

Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted disease that should be treated quickly in order to avoid complications. It is caused by bacteria that are usually spread through sexual contact. People with chlamydia often don't hav...

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This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.