How Is a Digital Rectal Exam Performed
A digital rectal exam (DRE) is quick and easy way to check the health of the rectum, prostate, and pelvis

During a digital rectal exam (DRE), your doctor inserts a gloved and lubricated finger into your rectum to check for problems including prostate enlargement, tenderness, or lumps. It is a quick and easy way to check the health of the rectum, prostate, and pelvis.

What to expect during a digital rectal exam

Before the procedure

  • Inform your doctor if you have hemorrhoids or anal fissures.
  • You may be asked to sign a consent form stating that you understand the benefits and risks of the DRE and agree to have the test.
  • Local anesthetic may be used to numb the area.

During the procedure

  • You may be asked to lie down on your left side with your knees pulled up to your chest, as this is the preferred position to examine the perineum and rectum. 
  • Your doctor will gently insert lubricated, gloved finger facing anteriorly into your rectum and palpate the rectal wall for masses, nodules, and tenderness.
  • From the anterior position, the finger is rotated clockwise to the posterior position, then returned to the anterior position.
  • A DRE usually does not hurt, but it may cause you some discomfort.

After the procedure

  • After the DRE, you can resume your normal activities right away.
  • People with hemorrhoids or anal fissures are more likely to bleed slightly after the procedure.

Why is a digital rectal exam performed?

A digital rectal exam can help your doctor check for health problems such as:

A DRE may also be performed to obtain fecal samples for a fecal occult blood test or as part of a routine medical examination. It may be ordered if you present with symptoms such as:

If your doctor detects an abnormality or a suspicious lump during the exam, further testing may be ordered, which may include a biopsy, proctoscopy, sigmoidoscopy, or colonoscopy.

Who should not get a digital rectal exam?

Contraindications for a DRE include the following:

What are possible complications of a digital rectal exam?

Possible complications of a DRE include the following:

  • Discomfort and pain
  • Tearing of the perianal skin
  • Abrasion of hemorrhoidal tissues
  • Infection

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Medically Reviewed on 6/1/2022
References
Image Source: iStock image

Digital Rectal Exam (DRE). American Society of Clinical Oncology: https://www.cancer.net/navigating-cancer-care/diagnosing-cancer/tests-and-procedures/digital-rectal-exam-dre#:~:text=The%20doctor%20will%20ask%20you,gloved%20finger%20into%20your%20rectum.

Rectal Exam. NIH: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK537356/

Jennifer Robinson. Digital Rectal Exam for Prostate Problems. WebMD: https://www.webmd.com/prostate-cancer/guide/prostate-cancer-digital-rectal-exam