Knowing how to prepare for rectal exams can make the experience much less uncomfortable. Although the idea of a rectal exam might be embarrassing or unpleasant, it is very important to follow through with any exams your doctor might recommend. The possibility of developing prostate cancer increases after age fifty, and the doctor might recommend regular exams at an earlier age if there is a history of prostate problems or of colon or rectal cancer in your family. The rectal exam might also be used to acquire samples from the rectum to test for any blood in the stool, which could indicate colorectal cancer.
Little preparation is necessary before a digital rectal exam. However, you should be sure to let your doctor know if you have any existing conditions that could affect the exam or cause you additional discomfort. These might include:
- Tears or injury to the anal area
- Anal fissures
If your doctor knows about these issues beforehand, he can be sure to take your comfort into account while administering the exam.
The exam itself is simple and doesn't take very long to administer. Typical steps are:
- Undress according to the doctor's instructions. You will likely be asked to undress below the waist. A medical gown will be provided. While undressing and waiting for the doctor, try to relax. Any tension will make the exam more uncomfortable, so take advantage of this time to manage your anxiety. If you are particularly anxious, try breathing exercises, or even speak to your doctor about how to relax for the exam.
- Take the proper position for the exam. For men, this is usually bent forward at the waist. Some doctors might prefer that you lie on your side with your knees close to your chest. If you would prefer one position over the other, ask your doctor if he can accommodate your preferences.
- Take a breath. Many doctors will ask you to take a breath as the exam begins as this can help you relax and make the initial insertion less uncomfortable. The doctor will use gloves and a personal lubricant to reduce friction and discomfort.
- Relax. The test only takes a minute or two. The doctor might press against your abdomen while his finger is inserted in order to better palpate abdominal organs.
After the test, the doctor will let you know if anything abnormal was detected. If he detected any enlargement of the prostate or possible polyps in the rectum, you might require additional testing. You might feel a bit sore after the exam, but it should not be overly uncomfortable and should pass quickly.
Regardless of your anxieties about a rectal exam, be sure to schedule these exams according to your doctor's recommendations. In the long run, it could save your life.