What Causes Rectal Discharge? Symptoms and Treatments

By Latifa deGraft-Johnson, MD
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
May 12, 2022

Anal discharge, also called rectal discharge, can appear in several forms, including mucus-like, pus-filled, or bloody.

Regardless of how it looks, rectal discharge is usually a sign of an infection or underlying problem.

In this article, we’ll cover the possible causes of rectal discharge and the treatment options available. Keep in mind that noticing rectal discharge warrants medical attention.

If you’re experiencing rectal discharge, reach out to your healthcare provider for diagnosis and treatment.

What is Rectal Discharge?

Finding rectal discharge in your toilet bowl, in your underwear, or around your anus can be concerning.

It can look like mucus, pus, or bloody fluid. Some people may even notice a feeling of dampness or wetness around the anal opening. 

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Common Causes of Rectal Discharge

There are several possible causes of anal discharge. In most cases, rectal discharge is a sign of an infection or condition that requires medical attention.

IBD

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a chronic inflammatory disease that affects the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.

Both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (UC) are examples of IBD.

People with IBD can have varying symptoms, but the most common include:

Unfortunately, there is no cure for IBD, but there are some treatment options that can help to relieve symptoms.

If you’re experiencing symptoms of IBD, reach out to your healthcare provider for help.

Rectal prolapse

Rectal prolapse describes a rare condition in which the rectum drops down through the anus.

There are two types of rectal prolapse:

  • Complete rectal prolapse: when the entire wall of the rectum drops through the anus
  • Partial rectal prolapse: when only the lining of the rectum drops through the anus

Experts aren’t sure what causes rectal prolapse, but there are some risk factors for the condition.

People over the age of 50 are most likely to get rectal prolapse, though people with a history of intestinal hernias, cystic fibrosis, chronic diarrhea, and chronic constipation are also at higher risk.

Symptoms of rectal prolapse include:

  • A reddish-colored mass that sticks out of the anus
  • Constipation, diarrhea, or both
  • Feeling that the anus isn’t empty even after having a bowel movement
  • Bloody and/or mucus-like rectal discharge
  • Fecal incontinence

Diagnosis of rectal prolapse usually involves physical examination and certain tests, including:

  • Defecography
  • Colonoscopy
  • Lower GI series

In most cases, treatment of rectal prolapse will involve surgery.

Anal abscess or fistula

An anal abscess or fistula is a connection between the anorectal area and perianal area.

An abscess describes a gland that has accumulated pus, while a fistula is a tiny tunnel that connects the abscess to the skin around the anus. 

Symptoms of an anal abscess or fistula include:

  • Itching or discomfort in the anal area
  • Rectal discharge
  • Pain with defecation

Several factors can cause anal abscesses or fistulas, including inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), tuberculosis, and radiation treatments.

In most cases, surgery is almost always necessary to treat a fistula.

Anal cancer

Though rare, anal cancer can also cause rectal bleeding.

Other symptoms may include:

  • Pelvic pain
  • Weight loss
  • A sensation of a mass in the anus or rectum
  • Anal irritation
  • Incontinence
  • Prolapse of tissue

Experiencing rectal bleeding isn’t necessarily a sign of anal cancer, which is something that just 0.2% of people in the United States are diagnosed with during their lifetimes.

Still, it’s important to reach out to your healthcare provider if you’re experiencing rectal bleeding.

If you’re experiencing additional symptoms like the ones listed above, be sure to mention those to your healthcare provider too. 

IBS

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) describes a condition in which a group of abdominal symptoms occur together. Among other symptoms, IBS can cause whitish, mucus-like rectal discharge. 

Additional possible symptoms include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Bloating

Keep in mind that symptoms of IBS can vary from person-to-person and there isn’t one known cause of IBS, but there are treatment strategies that can help reduce and alleviate symptoms.

Once diagnosed, your provider may recommend certain lifestyle changes, medicines, probiotics and other therapies that may help.

STIs

Several sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can also cause rectal symptoms, including rectal discharge.

STIs that most commonly present with rectal symptoms are:

Though additional symptoms can vary depending on the type of STI present, some of the most common STI symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain (particularly in the lower abdomen)
  • Blood in urine
  • Blood in semen
  • Burning pain while urinating
  • Fever
  • Frequent urination, or feeling the urge to urinate frequently
  • Itching, tenderness, or swelling of the penis
  • Enlarged lymph nodes in the pelvic area
  • Difficulty passing a bowel movement
  • Pain with intercourse
  • Pain during ejaculation

However, not all STIs cause rectal symptoms.

To confirm whether or not an STI is present, your provider may perform a physical examination of the abdomen, bladder area, penis, scrotum, and anus.

A stool sample, urine, or rectal swab may also be taken. 

Diagnosing and treating STIs are key to preventing spread.

Treatment options will vary depending on which STI, if any, is present.

In most cases, your provider may prescribe an antibiotic such as azithromycin or doxycycline.

Hemorrhoids

Hemorrhoids can also cause rectal discharge. Hemorrhoids are swollen, inflamed veins and blood vessels in and around the anus and rectum. 

There are several factors that can cause hemorrhoids, including: 

  • Pregnancy
  • Straining during bowel movements
  • Sitting on the toilet for long periods of time
  • Older age
  • Chronic constipation
  • Chronic diarrhea 
  • A low-fiber diet
  • Frequently lifting heavy objects

Additional symptoms of hemorrhoids can also be present, such as:

  • Pain and irritation around the anus
  • Bright red blood in stool
  • Swelling or a hard lump around the anus
  • Anal itching

In many cases, hemorrhoids can be treated at home with warm water baths, stool softeners, ice packs, over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, and hemorrhoid creams.

But in more severe cases, surgery may be needed.

Proctitis

Proctitis, or inflammation of the lining of the rectum, may also cause rectal discharge.

The condition can be either acute or chronic. Several factors can cause proctitis, including infection, IBD, radiation therapy, and ostomy surgery of the bowel. 

Symptoms in addition to rectal discharge can include:

  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • The feeling of needing to pass stool, even though your bowels are empty
  • Pain and passing blood with stool

There are several treatment options that can help to cure the inflammation and alleviate symptoms, depending on the exact cause of your proctitis.

Some treatment examples include antibiotics, endoscopy procedures, and surgery. 

Other Symptoms That May Occur With Rectal Discharge

Because there are many possible causes of rectal discharge, there are also many possible symptoms that can occur with rectal discharge.

Some of the most common symptoms that occur with rectal discharge are gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms, such as:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Blood in stool
  • Change in bowel movement habits
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Bloating
  • Rectal pain or pressure
  • Pain in the back, pelvis, stomach, or side
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control

Treatments

The treatment for rectal discharge will vary depending on the cause.

Some common treatment options will include:

  • Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers
  • Antibiotics
  • Probiotics
  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy or radiation

Keep in mind that in order to determine the right treatment option for you, it’s important to speak with a healthcare provider for proper diagnosis.

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When to See a Medical Provider

It’s important to see or speak with a healthcare provider if you notice anal discharge of any color, texture, or type. Speaking with your provider is the best way to identify the right treatment course for your symptoms. 

Did you know you can get affordable primary healthcare with the K Health app? Download K Health to check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and, if needed, text with a doctor in minutes. K Health’s AI-powered app is HIPAA compliant and based on 20 years of clinical data.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is anal discharge normal?
Unfortunately, anal discharge is usually a sign of an underlying infection or condition. It’s important to speak with a healthcare provider as soon as possible if you notice anal discharge of any color or texture (other than fecal matter).
What does anal discharge look like?
Anal discharge can be white, mucus-like, pus-like, or bloody. Regardless of how it looks, it’s important to seek medical attention if and when you notice anal discharge.
Should I be concerned about anal discharge?
Yes, anal discharge is usually a sign of an underlying infection or condition, which is why it’s very important to seek medical attention as soon as you notice discharge coming from your anus.
Why is my bottom leaking?
There are many possible causes of anal discharge, including infection, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), hemorrhoids, proctitis, or cancer. If you notice anal discharge, reach out to your healthcare provider as soon as possible.

K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Latifa deGraft-Johnson, MD

Dr. Latifa deGraft-Johnson is a board-certified family medicine physician with 20 years of experience. She received her bachelor's degree from St. Louis University, her medical degree from Ross University, and completed her family medicine residency at the University of Florida. Her passion is in preventative medicine and empowering her patients with knowledge.

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