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Digital rectal exam

  • Definition
    • A digital rectal exam is an examination of the lower rectum. The health care provider uses a gloved, lubricated finger to check for any abnormal findings.

  • Alternative Names
    • DRE

  • How the Test is Performed
    • The provider will first look at the outside of the anus for hemorrhoids or fissures. Then the provider will put on a glove and insert a lubricated finger into the rectum. In women, this exam may be done at the same time as a pelvic exam.

  • How to Prepare for the Test
    • For the test, the provider will ask you to:

      • Try to relax
      • Take a deep breath during the insertion of the finger into your rectum
  • How the Test will Feel
    • You may feel mild discomfort during this test.

  • Why the Test is Performed
    • This test is performed for many reasons. It may be done:

      • As part of a routine yearly physical exam in both men and women
      • When your provider suspects you are bleeding somewhere in your digestive tract
      • When men are having symptoms that suggest the prostate is enlarged or you may have a prostate infection

      In men, the test can be used to check the size of the prostate and to look for abnormal bumps or other changes of the prostate gland.

      A digital rectal exam may be done to collect stool for testing for fecal occult (hidden) blood as part of screening for cancer of the rectum or colon.

  • Normal Results
    • A normal finding means the provider did not detect any problem during the exam. However, this test does not rule out all problems.

  • What Abnormal Results Mean
  • References
    • Abdelnaby A, Downs MJ. Diseases of the anorectum. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 129.

      Loeb S, Carter HB. Early detection, diagnosis, and staging of prostate cancer. In: Wein AJ, ed. Campbell-Walsh Urology. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 99.