What is the purpose of a rectal tube?

Rectal tubes can be used to help release gas trapped in the intestines.

A rectal tube may be used to help remove gas from the large intestine or to remove or contain fecal matter. Technically, only one device used to remove flatus is considered a rectal tube and stool is removed with a rectal catheter, although many people use the two terms interchangeably. Both are usually only used when all other potential treatments have failed.

A rectal tube can be used to help people use the toilet more comfortably.

Trained medical staff can use this device to relieve discomfort in patients suffering from severe intestinal gas and distention. This is usually only done after gas medications, exercise, and other remedies wear off without adequate results. The tube is inserted into the anus using lubrication to lessen discomfort. This opens the rectum and allows the gas to pass more easily as the tube is inserted.

A healthcare worker holding rectal tubes.

A rectal catheter is used to capture fecal matter. This is usually only used on patients who have had colon surgery or who cannot use the bathroom normally. The goal is to control accidental dirt that can cause patient discomfort, irritate the skin, and expose the medical professional to harmful bacteria.

When using a rectal tube to control diarrhea, the tube is inserted into the rectum at one end and connected to a pouch at the other. This allows fecal matter to leave the body and enter the pouch where it is contained and discarded. The tube can remain attached to the patient for the duration of the diarrhea or until the colon or rectum is fully healed from the surgery.

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A rectal tube is inserted through the rectum.

There are risks associated with using a rectal tube. Colon perforation can sometimes occur, especially when the tube is inserted by less experienced medical staff. Having a tube inserted for an extended period of time can also put the patient at greater risk for damage to the rectal muscles. This can make it difficult to control bowel movements, especially for those who have had a previous operation or other procedure on the colon or rectum.

A rectal tube inserted into the anus opens the rectum and allows gas to pass more easily.

Only those who have been fully trained to insert this tube should use it on a patient. The risks and benefits must be carefully weighed and the tube must not be used for longer than is clinically necessary. When used for intestinal distention and gas, it should be used in combination with less risky methods to decrease tube use.

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