What Is Tenesmus?

Tenesmus is a term used to describe the experience of straining to empty an already empty bowel or bladder. Tenesmus of the bowel is called rectal tenesmus. Tenesmus of the bladder is called bladder or vesical tenesmus. The effort to continue emptying typically results in only a minimal passage of stool or urine.

When the word tenesmus is used as a stand alone term it is usually meant to indicate rectal tenesmus.

What Is Rectal Tenesmus?

Rectal tenesmus is the feeling at the end of a bowel movement that you need to continue to pass stool, although at that point your rectum has been emptied.

Symptoms of Rectal Tenesmus:

The primary symptom for people who have rectal tenesmus is the ongoing need to try to further empty the bowel or push out more stool. They may also experience:

Rectal tenesmus is a symptom associated with a variety of medical conditions, including:

Rectal tenesmus is most frequently seen in people who have the inflammatory bowel diseases of ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. Rectal tenesmus is also seen in many people who have IBS, both the constipation predominant sub-type, as well as the diarrhea predominant sub-type.

There is not a lot of information available as to the treatment for rectal tenesmus, other than making sure to adequately address the underlying disease or condition. One small clinical trial found that low dose tricyclic antidepressants improved tenesmus symptoms in female patients who have rectal prolapse - a condition in which a part of the rectum protrudes out through the anus.

What Is Vesical (Bladder) Tenesmus?

Vesical tenesmus is the experience of feeling a continued need to urinate even when the bladder has been emptied. The symptom may accompany the acute problem of a urinary tract infections (UTI) or the more chronic condition of interstitial cystitis.

Treatment of the underlying cause of vesical tenesmus should help to ease the symptom.

What to Do If You Have Tenesmus

There is no need to be embarrassed about the symptom of tenesmus. Be sure to tell your doctor so that they can identify what might be causing the symptom and get you started on an appropriate treatment regimen so as to help to relieve your symptoms and give you peace of mind.


Livovsky, D., et. al. "Tricyclic antidepressants for the treatment of tenesmus associated with rectal prolapse" Colorectal Disease 2015 17:1094–1099.

"Tenesmus" Medline Plus Accessed January 29, 2016.

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