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Digital rectal exam


Definition:

A digital rectal exam is an examination of the lower rectum. The doctor uses a gloved, lubricated finger to check for any abnormal findings.

Alternative Names:

DRE

How the Test is Performed:

The health care provider will first look at the outside of the anus for hemorrhoids or fissures. Then the health care provider will put on a latex glove and insert a lubricated finger into the rectum. In women, this exam may be done at the same time as a pelvic exam.

How to Prepare for the Test:

For the test, the doctor will ask you to:

  • Try to relax
  • Take a deep breath during the insertion of the finger into your rectum
How the Test will Feel:

You may feel mild discomfort during this test.

Why the Test is Performed:

This test is performed for many reasons. It may be done:

  • As part of a routine yearly physical exam in both men and women
  • When your healthcare provider suspects you are bleeding somewhere in your digestive tract
  • When men are having symptoms that suggest the prostate is enlarged

In men, the test can be used to check the size of the prostate and to look for abnormal bumps or other changes of the prostate gland.

A digital rectal exam may be done to collect stool for testing for fecal occult (hidden) blood as part of screening for colorectal cancer.

Normal Results:

A normal finding means the health care provider did not detect any problem during the exam. However, this test does not rule out all problems.

What Abnormal Results Mean:

An abnormal result may be due to:

  • A prostate problem, such as an enlarged prostate gland or prostate cancer
  • Bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract
  • Tumor of the rectum
  • Other problems within the rectum
References:

Loeb S, Carter HB. Early detection, diagnosis, and staging of prostate cancer. In: Wein AJ, ed. Campbell-Walsh Urology. 10th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 99.

Marcello PW. Diseases of the anorectum. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2010:chap 125.


Review Date: 2/16/2014
Reviewed By: Todd Eisner, MD, Private practice specializing in Gastroenterology, Boca Raton, FL. Affiliate Assistant Professor, Florida Atlantic University School of Medicine. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. Copyright 2002 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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