A rectal tube may be used to help remove gas from the lower intestines or to remove or contain fecal matter. Technically, only a device used to remove flatus is considered to be a rectal tube and feces is removed using a rectal catheter, although many people use both terms interchangeably. Both are generally only used when all other potential treatments have failed.
Trained medical staff may use this device to relieve discomfort in patients who suffer from severe intestinal gas and distention. This is usually only done once gas medications, exercise, and other remedies have been exhausted without adequate results. The tube is inserted into the anus using lubrication to lessen discomfort. This opens the rectum and allows gas to pass more easily while the tube is inserted.
A rectal catheter is used to capture fecal matter. This is usually only used in patients who have had colon surgery or who are otherwise unable to use the restroom normally. The purpose is to control accidental soiling that may cause discomfort for the patient, irritate skin, and expose medical professionals to harmful bacteria.
When using a rectal tube for the purpose of diarrhea control, the tube is inserted into the rectum at one end and is attached to a bag at the other. This allows fecal matter to pass out of the body and into the bag where it is contained and disposed of. The tubing may remain connected to the patient for as long as diarrhea lasts, or until the colon or rectum has fully healed from surgery.
There are risks associated with the use of a rectal tube. Colon perforation can sometimes occur, especially when tubing is inserted by less experienced medical staff. Having a tube inserted for an extended period of time may also put a patient at greater risk for damage to the rectal muscles. This can make control of bowel movements more difficult, especially for those who have had a previous operation or another procedure on the colon or rectum.
Only those who have been fully trained in inserting this tube should use one on a patient. The risks and benefits should be weighed carefully, and the tube should not be used for any longer than medically necessary. When used for distention and intestinal gas, it should be used in combination with less risky methods in order to lessen the use of the tubing.