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Colorectal Cancer Health Center

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Digital Rectal Examination (DRE)

How It Feels

Men may feel some discomfort or pain during a digital rectal exam (DRE). Your doctor must press firmly on the prostate to feel for problems. This pressure may make you feel the need to urinate. The examination may be painful if the prostate gland is swollen or irritated.

Most women do not find a DRE painful. You may feel some pressure or discomfort when your doctor presses on your belly to feel the internal organs.

People with hemorrhoids, breaks in the skin around the anus (called anal fissures), or other anal sores may find a DRE more painful than people without these problems.


A small amount of bleeding from the rectum may occur after an examination, especially if hemorrhoids or anal fissures are present.

In rare cases, you may feel lightheaded and faint. This feeling is called vasovagal syncope and is caused by fear or pain when your doctor puts a finger into the rectum. Vasovagal syncope is more likely to happen if you are standing up.


A digital (finger) rectal examination is done to check for problems of 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.

Digital rectal exam


No problems such as organ enlargements or growths are felt.


Problems such as organ enlargements or growths are felt.

For men, the prostate gland may be enlarged. This may mean benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH) or inflammation of the prostate gland (prostatitis). Tumors are felt.

For women, growths such as tumors of the cervix, uterus, or ovaries are felt.

Growths such as hemorrhoids, polyps, tumors, or abscesses may be found in the lower rectum. Breaks in the skin around the anus (anal fissures) may be found. Problems of the bladder may also be felt.

What Affects the Test

Hemorrhoids or anal fissures may cause discomfort during a digital rectal exam.

What To Think About

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: November 14, 2014
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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