Digital Rectal Exam

What Is It?

The digital rectal exam is a physical examination of the rectum, the last few inches of the bowel, just above the anus. The doctor uses a gloved and lubricated finger to check for abnormalities of the anus and rectum. It takes about one to two minutes and, although it may cause some mild discomfort, it should not be painful.

By feeling through the rectal wall, the doctor can also examine the surface of the prostate gland in men and some of the reproductive organs in women.

What It's Used For

Doctors use the digital rectal exam to evaluate certain symptoms in both men and women. Usually these are symptoms affecting the digestive system, genitals and urinary tract. For example, a doctor may do the exam to check the prostate in a man who complains of frequent urination or to examine the pelvic organs in a woman with deep abdominal pain. Although the exam can detect some gynecological abnormalities in women, a vaginal (pelvic) exam may still be necessary.

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