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Digital Rectal Examination (DRE)

A digital (finger) rectal examination is done to check for problems with organs or other structures in the pelvis and lower belly. During the examination, the doctor gently puts a lubricated, gloved finger of one hand into the rectum. He or she may use the other hand to press on the lower belly or pelvic area.

A digital rectal exam camera.gif is done for men as part of a complete physical examination to check the prostate gland camera.gif. It is done for women as part of a gynecological examination to check the uterus and ovaries. Other organs, such as the bladder, can sometimes also be felt during a digital rectal exam.

Why It Is Done

A digital rectal exam (DRE) is done to:

  • Check for growths in or enlargement of the prostate gland camera.gif in men. A tumor in the prostate can often be felt as a hard lump. This may be done as part of a regular examination or to check on symptoms, such as a change in urination. Not all problems of the prostate can be felt through the rectum.
  • Check for problems in a woman's reproductive organs camera.gif, such as the uterus and ovaries. It is often done during a regular pelvic examination and Pap test. It may also be done to check on symptoms, such as pelvic pain or vaginal bleeding.
  • Help find the cause of symptoms such as rectal bleeding (blood in the stool), belly or pelvic pain, a change in urination, or a change in bowel habits.
  • Collect a stool sample to test for blood in the stool.
  • Check for hemorrhoids or growths, such as cancer, in the rectum. DRE alone is not used to diagnose colorectal cancer. Also, a DRE may not find internal hemorrhoids because they are soft and hard to feel. A sigmoidoscopy may be needed to diagnose internal hemorrhoids.

How To Prepare

If you have hemorrhoids, tell your doctor before the examination begins. Your doctor will try not to bother your hemorrhoids.

How It Is Done

For a digital rectal exam, you will take off your clothes below the waist. You will be given a gown to wear.

  • A man is often examined while he stands, bending forward at the waist. A man can also be examined while lying on his left side, with his knees bent toward his chest.
  • A woman is often examined while lying on her back on an examination table, with her feet raised and supported by stirrups. A rectovaginal exam is often done for women so that organs in the pelvic area can be checked. But a digital rectal exam also can be done with a woman lying on her left side, especially if a pelvic exam is not done at the same time.

Your doctor gently puts a lubricated, gloved finger into the rectum. He or she may use the other hand to press on the lower belly or pelvic area to feel for tenderness or problems, such as enlargement, hardness, or growths.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: September 26, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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