A digital rectal exam DRE is an exam in which a healthcare professional puts a finger into the rectum to check for problems or abnormalities in the lower abdomen and pelvis. A DRE is most often done as part of a routine physical exam in adults. It is done: to check the prostate gland for enlargement or growths in men as part of a pelvic exam to check the uterus and ovaries in women to check for problems with structures or other organs in the pelvis, such as the bladder to help find the cause of symptoms, such as blood in the stool poop , rectal bleeding, changes in bowel or bladder habits, lower abdominal pain or pelvic pain to check for hemorrhoids swollen blood vessels near the anus or rectum and growths in the rectum. There is no special preparation for a DRE. Men are often examined while lying on their side with their knees bent toward the chest. They may also be examined while standing and bending forward at the waist. Women are examined while lying on their back with their knees bent and spread apart or with their feet raised in stirrups. The outside of the anus is checked for hemorrhoids, small cracks or tears in the skin fissures around the anus and other abnormalities. The healthcare professional gently inserts a lubricated, gloved finger of one hand into the rectum.
Why a DRE is done
A digital rectal examination DRE is a simple procedure doctors use to examine the lower rectum and other internal organs. A DRE is done for a number of reasons. It can detect conditions like an enlarged prostate benign prostatic hyperplasia and prostate cancer.
Skip to Content. A digital rectal exam DRE is a test for both men and women. It allows a doctor to check the lower rectum, pelvis, and lower belly for cancer and other health problems, including:. A doctor may perform a DRE as part of a routine medical examination. Or a person may need a DRE if he or she has symptoms such as rectal bleeding, a change in bowel habits, urethral discharge or bleeding, or a change in urine stream. Typically, a primary care doctor or a gynecologist performs a DRE in a private exam room at the doctor's office. Other types of doctors, including gastroenterologists, surgeons, and oncologists may do DREs to learn more about any abnormal findings.
Rectal examination is an internal examination of the rectum , performed by a healthcare provider. The patient undresses and is then placed in a position where the anus is accessible lying on the side, squatting on the examination table, bent over it, or lying down with feet in stirrups. If the patient bends over the examination table or the back of a chair, the physician will have him place his elbows on the table and squat down slightly. If the patient uses the supine position, the physician will ask the patient to slide down to the end of the examination table until their buttocks are positioned just beyond the end. The physician spreads the buttocks apart and will usually examine the external area anus and perineum for any abnormalities such as hemorrhoids , lumps, or rashes. Then, as the patient relaxes and bears down as if having a bowel movement , the physician slips a lubricated finger into the rectum through the anus and palpates the insides for a short time. Due to the taboos surrounding the anus and the potential for discomfort and embarrassment, the rectal exam is a common comedic device , including in episodes of Saturday Night Live ,  Impractical Jokers , Futurama , Family Guy , South Park and the movie Fletch , with M. Emmet Walsh as the general practitioner and Chevy Chase as the patient being examined. A number of medical students in Australia and the United Kingdom were instructed by consultant physicians to perform a rectal exam on patient without acquiring informed consent.