Ever experience running to the bathroom over and over again because you feel this urgent need to evacuate your bowels but then when you go not much, or nothing at all comes out?
Tenesmus is the sensation of urgently needing to evacuate the bowels even though they are empty. Tenesmus may be accompanied by pain, cramping, or straining and you may feel like you cannot completely empty the bowel even though there is nothing left to expel.
Back when I had a colon and rectum this was a symptom that plagued me when my disease was active. I would run to the bathroom, use it, and before I could even pull up my pants and walk away I felt the need to evacuate my bowels again and so I had to return to the toilet even though nothing was left to expel. It seemed like my whole day I was constantly running to the bathroom having the tiniest of bowel movements but the urgency, cramping, and straining were ever present. Patients who experience tenesmus describe having multiple very small bowel movements throughout the day as they try to relieve the sensations of needing to urgently empty the bowel.
What Causes It?
There are several causes of tenesmus and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis) is the #1 culprit. Tenesmus is caused by inflammation in the rectum and even a tiny amount of stool or gas in the rectum can cause the sensation of needing to urgently move the bowels as the inflamed rectum expands and contracts.
More Common in Ulcerative Colitis.
Tenesmus is more common in patients with ulcerative colitis compared to patients with Crohn’s disease. This is because Tenesmus is caused by inflammation in the rectum and nearly all patients with UC have inflammation that starts in the rectum and continues up from there. Patients with Crohn’s disease can have inflammation anywhere along the digestive tract with the terminal ileum being the most common place Crohn’s disease affects.
Lowered Quality of Life.
Tenesmus can be a very distressing symptom and constantly feeling like you need to run to the bathroom can seriously affect a person’s quality of life. If you experience this symptom talk with your gastroenterologist about treatments that can help.