Proctitis is an inflammatory condition of the lining (mucosa) of the rectum. Males and females are equally affected and it is not specific to any particular age.
The cause is unknown. Most cases of proctitis are part of a range of chronic inflammatory bowel diseases of which ulcerative colitis and crohn’s disease are examples. Others may be due to infectious agents, some of which may be sexually transmitted. Inflammation following irradiation to pelvic organs is a rare cause of proctitis. Irradiation may have been for prostate or cervical cancer.
Non specific proctitis involves the rectum above the anus and spreads for a variable distance upwards and is like a “burn” of the bowel lining. Crohn’s proctitis varies from small scattered ulcers through to deep, large, irregularly placed ulcers. Irradiation proctitis tends to occur next to the organ that was irradiated, for example, the inflammation is close to the anus after prostate cancer irradiation and higher up after irradiation for cervix cancer. The effects of irradiation vary from diffuse burnlike damage to discrete bleeding areas due to the development of multiple small fragile abnormal blood vessels in response to the irradiation.
The main symptoms are urgency to pass stool, passage of blood and mucus, and looseness of stool, although some of these symptoms may be absent. Pain is unusual but can occur with some sexually transmitted infections, when fever may also be present. Anal irritation is not uncommon. Because bleeding is a major symptom of proctitis, anaemia may result. Depending on the cause, the symptoms may last several days, weeks or years, continuously or intermittently.
The diagnosis is based on the clinical features and the appearance of the bowel lining at sigmoidoscopy. Colonoscopy is sometimes undertaken to exclude more extensive inflammation, or other causes of bowel symptoms. Biopsies may be helpful and bacteriology cultures may reveal the cause in infectious proctitis.
The treatment is usually medical. It is very unusual to require surgery. Non specific proctitis is frequently treated with suppositories or rectal foam containing cortisone compounds. Occasionally cortisone enemas are prescribed. Failure to respond to “local” treatment may require the use of tablets of salazopyrine or related compounds, and occasionally oral prednisone.
Infective proctitis may resolve spontaneously (without treatment) but if a particular germ is isolated then a course of the appropriate antibiotic is indicated.
Irradiation proctitis is difficult to treat and troublesome bleeding can be improved with instillation of formalin soaked packs in the rectum, or laser ablation of the bleeding points. Both these procedures are performed in an operating theatre. Rarely surgical removal of part or all of the rectum is undertaken for intractable, severe bleeding due to irradiation proctitis.
Proctitis is usually a “nuisance” rather than a serious problem and frequently has no effect on your health. About 10% of patients with non specific proctitis go on to develop ulcerative colitis, but mostly the condition runs a course over years with variable symptom free periods punctuated with exacerbations of inflammation and usually the condition eventually “burns out”.
Crohn’s proctitis may remain confined to the rectum. However, sometimes it is the first manifestation of a condition that can affect other parts of the large or small bowel, or anus. Irradiation proctitis is frequent during or within the first few weeks of receiving pelvic irradiation and very often completely resolves. However damage following irradiation may appear years after receiving radiotherapy, and may be persistent.