What is Tenesmus?

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  • Written By: Allison Boelcke
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 05 November 2019
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Tenesmus is the persistent feeling of needing to pass a bowel movement, regardless of the actual physical need to release solid waste. It can result in a person involuntary struggling to pass stool. A person with the condition will release little to no fecal matter when they attempt to pass stool. This can cause pain in the rectal area and result in solid waste building up in the intestines, making the abdominal muscles feel cramped.

The condition is usually a symptom of another underlying medical issue affecting the rectum or intestines. It can be the result of bacterial infections of the bowels, rectum or digestive system. Tenesmus can also be caused by other, more serious diseases that prevent the intestinal system from working properly.

Crohn's disease is an incurable condition that causes gastrointestinal irritation due to an abnormality in the immune system. The body fights substances from everyday digested foods that are normal because it mistakes them for disease or bacteria. This can result in irritation and cause swelling and pain in the gastrointestinal tract. The swelling and pain can spread to the rectal area and cause tenesmus.


Tenesmus can also be a symptom of an anorectal abscess, a pus-filled pocket in or near the rectal area. An abscess can occur if an anal gland becomes clogged or if there is an bacterial infection around the anus. Bacterial infections can happen in infants who wear diapers because their bare skin is constantly exposed to fecal bacteria. It can also occur in adults as a result of sexually transmitted diseases caused by anal sexual intercourse. Anorectal abscesses are usually not serious and can easily be treated.

The condition may also occur as a symptom of colorectal cancer. In more advanced cases of colorectal cancer, a tumor may form in the rectal area. The mass can irritate the area and cause blockage that prevents stool from exiting.

Since tenesmus is typically a sign of another condition, it usually subsides once the other issue is treated. If it is a complication of Crohn’s disease, medication can reduce gastrointestinal irritation, or surgery can be performed in order to repair any damaged intestines. For a case caused by an anorectal abscess, the pus-filled pocket can be treated by a procedure to surgically remove the pus. Further infection can be prevented by keeping the anal area clean and disinfected or by using condoms during anal intercourse to prevent sexually transmitted diseases. Tenesmus that is a symptom of colorectal cancer may subside after cancer treatment.


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Post 1

I have been battling Crohn’s disease for decades, and I have experienced tenesmus. It is a really unsettling feeling.

I hesitate to go out with my friends, because I get frequent urges to go to the bathroom. Though nothing usually comes out, every time I feel the need, I feel it’s best to go, because I have had diarrhea pop up on me suddenly, due to Crohn’s.

I can tell when the stools are storing up in my intestines. I feel heavy in my colon, but there’s nothing I can do about it. It’s a miserable way to live.

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