Rectal examination frequently appears in OSCEs and you’ll be expected to identify relevant signs using your clinical examination skills. This guide provides a step-by-step approach to performing a rectal examination in an OSCE setting, with an included video demonstration.
Introduce yourself to the patient including your name and role.
Confirm the patient’s name and date of birth.
Explain what the examination will involve using patient-friendlylanguage: “Today I need to perform a rectal examination. This will involve me inserting a finger into your anus to feel for any abnormalities. It shouldn’t be painful, but it will feel a little uncomfortable. You can ask me to stop at any point.”
Explain the need for a chaperone: “One of the other staff members will be present throughout the examination, acting as a chaperone, would that be ok?”
Gain consent to proceed with the examination: “Do you understand everything I’ve said? Do you have any questions? Are you happy for me to carry out the examination?”
Ask the patient if they have any pain before proceeding with the clinical examination.
Explain to the patient that they’ll need to remove their underwear and lie on the clinical examination couch, covering themselves with the sheet provided. Provide the patient with privacy to undress and check it is ok to re-enter the room before doing so.
1. Wash your hands.
2. Don an apron and a pair of non-sterile gloves.
3. With the clinical examination couch flat, ask the patient to lie down in the left lateral position with their knees bent up towards their chest.
4. Ask the patient if it is ok to remove the sheet to begin the examination.
Expose the patient
Separate the buttocks and inspect the perianalregion for relevant clinical signs:
Skin excoriation: secondary to anal pruritis which can be caused by haemorrhoids, faecal incontinence or constipation.
Skin tags: minor projections of skin at the anal verge that are usually benign. Perianal skin tags can, in some cases, be associated with inflammatory bowel disease.
External haemorrhoids: located below the dentate line and innervated by somatic nerves. On examination, they typically appear as a lump located just inside or outside the anal verge.
Anal fissure: a tear in the tissue of the anal canal, typically located posteriorly in the midline. Anal fissures most commonly develop secondary to constipation and are very painful (often making rectal examination impossible).
External bleeding: may be caused by external haemorrhoids, anal cancer or brisk gastrointestinal bleeding.
Anal fistula: a chronic abnormal communication between the internal anal canal and the perianal skin. Fistulae may discharge pus and have surrounding inflammation. Causes of anal fistulae include perianal Crohn’s disease, chronic anal abscess and diverticulitis.
Ask the patient to cough and inspect for:
Rectalprolapse: on inspection, a mass with concentric rings of mucosa will be visible protruding through the anus.
Internal haemorrhoids: located above the dentate line and innervated by visceral nerves. On examination, bluish, bulging vessels covered by mucosa may become visible when the patient coughs. Internal haemorrhoids are typically asymptomatic due to their visceral innervation.
Inspection the perianal region
Illustration of haemorrhoids
Inflammatory bowel disease
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a general term that is used to describe disorders that involve chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease are subtypes of IBD and differ in their clinical presentation.
Ulcerative colitis is the most common form of IBD and affects the colon and rectum. Typical findings on rectal examination include loose bloody stool and excess mucous.
Crohn’s disease is another subtype of IBD which can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract from the mouth to the anus. Typical findings on rectal examination may include rectal bleeding, perianal fistulas, abscesses and multiple skin tags.
1. Lubricate the examining finger.
2. Warn the patient you are about to insert your finger.
3. Insert your finger gently into the anal canal.
Lubricate the examining finger
Insert the finger gently into the anal canal
4. In males, palpate the prostate gland anteriorly and assess the size, symmetry and texture of the gland:
A normal prostate is approximately walnut-sized with a palpable midline sulcus.
It should be symmetrical and its consistency should be similar to that of the tip of the nose.
Palpate the prostate anteriorly
Abnormal findings on prostate examination
Clinical findings vary depending on the type of pathology affecting the prostate:
Prostatitis: a boggy texture of the prostate with associated tenderness.
Benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH): an enlarged smooth prostate with loss of the midline sulcus.
Prostate cancer: an asymmetrical, hard irregular prostate. There may be a palpable nodule within one of the lobes.
Anal canal examination
5. Rotate your finger 360 degrees to assess the entirety of the rectum:
Note the size, location (e.g. 9 o’clock) and texture (e.g. smooth, irregular) of any rectallumps (e.g. tumour, polyp, internal haemorrhoid).
Feel for any hardstool present in the rectum, which may indicate constipation.
Note the location of any tenderness, which may indicate an anal fissure or thrombosed internal haemorrhoids.
Rotate the finger 360° to assess the rectum
Rotate the finger 360° to assess the rectum
Anal tone assessment
6. Assess anal tone by asking the patient to bear down on your finger. Causes of reduced anal tone include spinal cord pathology (e.g. cauda equina syndrome), inflammatory bowel disease and previous rectal surgery.
Assess anal tone
7. Withdraw your finger and inspect for blood or mucous:
Dark sticky blood is known as melaena and is associated with uppergastrointestinalbleeding (e.g. stomach ulcer).
Fresh red blood is associated with lowergastrointestinalbleeding (e.g. rectal malignancy, fissure).
Excessmucous can be associated with inflammatoryboweldisease (e.g. ulcerative colitis).
8. Clean the patient using paper towels.
9. Cover the patient with the sheet, explain that the examination is now complete and provide the patient with privacy so they can get dressed.
10. Dispose of the used equipment into a clinical waste bin.
11. Wash your hands.
Withdraw and inspect finger
Clean the patient
Re-cover the patient
Dispose of used equipment into the clinical waste bin
To complete the examination…
Thank the patient for their time.
Document the procedure in the medical notes including the details of the chaperone.
Summarise your findings.
“Today I examined Mr Smith, a 28-year-old male. On general inspection, the patient appeared comfortable at rest. There were no objects or medical equipment around the bed of relevance.“
“There were no abnormalities noted on inspection of the perianalregion, rectal examination revealed a normal-sized prostate and no evidence of hardstool or masses in the rectal canal. No rectal bleeding was noted. “
“In summary, these findings are consistent with a normalrectalexamination.”
“For completeness, I would like to perform the following further assessments and investigations.”