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Proctalgia: A Unique Case of Rectal Foreign Body


Context of the Case Study
The realm of medical science is filled with a vast array of diagnoses and patient cases, each offering unique lessons and insights. This case study explores an intriguing instance of proctalgia – rectal pain – in a 29-year-old male patient, presenting a significant teaching opportunity for medical students.

About the Patient
The patient is a 29-year-old married man working as a shopkeeper, with no significant past medical history. His visit to the clinic was primarily driven by complaints of abdominal and rectal pain. Notably, this pain had been gradually increasing over a 6-hour period, thus necessitating prompt attention and evaluation.

Relevance to Clinical Practice
It is crucial to understand that in a clinical setting, patients may present symptoms like proctalgia that can have a multitude of causes. Hence, this case underlines the importance of a comprehensive medical examination and history taking. Moreover, it highlights the need for healthcare providers to maintain an open, non-judgmental stance when dealing with patients’ sexual practices, a subject often considered taboo yet integral to patient management in cases such as this.

The Foreign Object
In our patient’s case, the abdominal and rectal discomfort was reportedly due to the self-insertion of a foreign object – a deodorant container – into his anus. The patient admitted to engaging in this behavior over the past two years, using various penis-type objects for sexual satisfaction. This time, however, the deodorant container became stuck, and he was unable to remove it, leading to his present discomfort.

Case Objective
This case study will comprehensively detail the patient’s presentation, the diagnostic steps followed, the ultimate diagnosis, and the management plan. The primary objective is to provide valuable learning material for medical students, emphasizing the importance of thorough history taking, examination, and a patient-centered approach to healthcare.

Patient Presentation and Medical History

Patient’s Complaints and Progression of Symptoms
Our patient, a 29-year-old married shopkeeper, initially presented to the clinic with abdominal and rectal pain, or proctalgia, a discomfort that had been worsening over a period of six hours. As clinicians, it is critical to note the duration and progressive nature of the symptoms since these factors can provide vital clues to the underlying condition.

Personal and Sexual History
On gathering a detailed history, we discovered that the patient had been indulging in a unique sexual practice: the insertion of various penis-type objects into his rectum for sexual gratification. This practice had been ongoing for almost two years. However, the current episode was different; he had inserted a deodorant container into his anus, which became lodged and could not be removed. This critical piece of information serves to illustrate the importance of obtaining a comprehensive personal and sexual history, even when the patient’s symptoms seem ostensibly non-sexual.

The Pain Timeline
Further inquiry revealed that the pain experienced by our patient had begun soon after the unsuccessful attempt to remove the foreign object. Over time, the discomfort had escalated, compelling him to seek medical attention. As medical students and professionals, understanding the timeline of pain is essential as it guides differential diagnosis and provides an insight into the urgency and nature of treatment required.

Vital Signs and Physical Health
Despite the escalating discomfort, the patient’s vital signs were within normal ranges: his temperature was 98°F, blood pressure stood at 120/80 mmHg, pulse rate at 82 beats per minute, and respiratory rate at 20 breaths per minute. This data indicates that, while the patient was experiencing significant discomfort, he was not in immediate distress.

Medical History
When examining a patient, it is important not to neglect the patient’s past medical history. In our patient’s case, there were no significant previous medical conditions, including diabetes, hypertension, or mental illness, and he had no history of drug use. This lack of a significant medical history can help narrow down potential causes of the current symptoms and inform the direction of further investigations.

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This case underscores the critical role that an in-depth patient history plays in clinical practice. For medical students and healthcare professionals, this case study serves as a reminder that patient presentations can be complex and multifaceted, and successful diagnosis often hinges on gathering all available patient information – including those that might initially seem unrelated to the presenting complaint.

Clinical Examination and Findings

Initial Physical Examination
Upon physical examination, the patient showed bilateral tenderness in the lower abdominal quadrant, suggesting irritation or possible trauma in the area. As medical practitioners, recognizing such physical signs can aid in forming a preliminary clinical impression and guide further investigative measures.

Rectal Examination
In a case presenting with proctalgia, a rectal examination is of utmost importance. A rectal examination of our patient confirmed the palpation of a solid object, providing clear evidence of the foreign body’s presence, and further supporting the patient’s initial history. This highlights the significance of a thorough physical examination in patient assessment. Understanding the techniques and implications of such examinations can be extremely beneficial in the clinical setting.

Vital Signs
An analysis of the patient’s vital signs revealed that they were within the normal range. Despite his discomfort, his body was able to maintain a normal temperature of 98°F, blood pressure of 120/80 mmHg, pulse rate of 82 beats per minute, and a respiratory rate of 20 breaths per minute. These findings suggest that while the patient was in significant discomfort, his body was not in a state of acute distress that could result from sepsis or a similar life-threatening condition.

Interpretation of Findings
Interpreting these clinical findings requires an understanding of the patient’s reported history and symptoms. The physical discomfort, along with the presence of a palpable foreign object during the rectal examination, corroborated the patient’s account of self-inserting a foreign object. As such, it is evident that the abdominal and rectal pain was likely caused by the presence of this object.

Medical students’ takeaway
For medical students, this case serves as a strong reminder of the pivotal role a thorough clinical examination plays in patient care. It demonstrates that even when a patient’s history strongly points to a particular diagnosis, a clinical examination remains an essential tool to confirm the suspected condition and rule out additional complications. Furthermore, it emphasizes the need for healthcare professionals to be equipped with the skills to perform and interpret such examinations accurately.

Diagnostic Approach

Imaging Decision
Given the patient’s history and clinical examination findings, the next logical step was to order an abdomen erect X-ray. The rationale behind this was to visualize the foreign object, assess its size and location, and look for any potential complications like perforation or obstruction.

Utility of X-ray
In cases of suspected rectal foreign objects, X-rays are an essential diagnostic tool. They can help locate the foreign object and also provide crucial insights about its orientation, which can guide the strategy for removal. Furthermore, X-rays can help detect complications like free air in the abdomen, which would indicate a perforation – a serious complication requiring immediate surgical intervention.

Differential Diagnoses
While the patient’s account and the clinical findings strongly suggested a foreign body as the cause of the discomfort, it was necessary to consider other potential causes of the symptoms. Differential diagnoses to consider in cases of proctalgia could include conditions like hemorrhoids, anal fissures, prostatitis, and proctitis, among others. However, in this case, the patient’s detailed history and physical examination findings provided strong evidence towards the foreign object being the source of pain, rendering other potential diagnoses less likely.

This case emphasizes the critical role of diagnostic imaging in managing cases involving foreign bodies in the rectum. For medical students, it highlights the importance of considering a broad differential diagnosis while also understanding the value of appropriate investigations in confirming a suspected diagnosis and planning the next steps in management.

Diagnosis and Management

X-ray Results and Diagnosis
Upon receiving the abdomen erect X-ray results, we were able to identify the foreign object lodged in the rectum. The X-ray confirmed the presence and location of the object, corroborating the patient’s history and our physical examination findings. This solidified the diagnosis of proctalgia due to a rectal foreign body.

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Treatment Plan
Managing a case such as this requires a detailed and well-thought-out approach. The primary concern in our patient’s management was the safe removal of the foreign object. Depending on the exact size, shape, and location of the object, this can often be achieved with manual extraction under anesthesia or using endoscopic tools. In more complex cases, or if complications arise, surgical intervention may be necessary. The patient should also be given analgesics for pain management and monitored closely for any post-procedure complications.

  1. Pain Management: The patient should be provided with pain relief medications to manage the discomfort associated with the foreign object.
  2. Removal of Foreign Object: Depending on the size, shape, and location of the foreign body, different methods may be employed for removal:
    • Manual extraction: If the object is within reach, it can be manually removed in the emergency department under sedation or anesthesia.
    • Endoscopic removal: If the object is further up in the rectum, an endoscope may be used to grasp and remove the object.
    • Surgical removal: In more complex cases, where the object is too large, too far into the colon, or if complications such as perforation have occurred, surgical intervention may be necessary.
  3. Post-procedure Monitoring: Following the removal, the patient should be monitored for any post-procedure complications such as bleeding, perforation, or infection.
  4. Prevention and Counseling: The patient should be counseled about safe sexual practices to avoid a recurrence. If necessary, a referral to a sexual health counselor or mental health professional should be considered.
  5. Follow-up Care: The patient should be scheduled for a follow-up visit to ensure complete recovery and address any potential psychological distress related to the incident.

It’s important to note that each patient’s situation may be unique, and therefore, the treatment plan should be tailored according to the specific circumstances and needs of the patient.

Potential Complications
Without appropriate and timely treatment, the patient would be at risk of several complications, including rectal perforation, abscess formation, or sepsis. It is also important to monitor for potential psychological distress related to the event and consider a referral to a mental health professional if needed.

Preventive Measures
Following the removal of the object, preventive measures should also be discussed with the patient to avoid future occurrences. This includes addressing the sexual practices that led to the incident, offering guidance on safe sexual practices, and possibly referring the patient to a sexual health counselor. It is critical to approach this conversation in a sensitive, non-judgmental manner to foster open communication and ensure patient comfort.

For medical students, this case presents valuable lessons on the complexities of diagnosis and management in unique patient cases. It underscores the importance of a systematic approach, combining the use of clinical examinations, diagnostic tools, and patient history to reach an accurate diagnosis and develop an effective treatment plan. Furthermore, it reinforces the critical role of patient counseling and preventive measures in comprehensive healthcare.


Unique Aspects of the Case
The uniqueness of this case lies in the underlying cause of proctalgia – a self-inserted foreign body for sexual gratification. These cases may be rare, but they underscore the vast array of potential causes of common symptoms such as abdominal and rectal pain. It emphasizes the need for healthcare providers to maintain an open mind and a comprehensive, non-judgmental approach when evaluating patients.

Learning Points
One of the key learning points from this case study is the critical importance of a detailed history and physical examination. The patient’s history of self-insertion of penis-type objects into his anus, combined with a thorough physical examination, led to a correct and swift diagnosis, which could have been easily missed if a comprehensive approach wasn’t employed.

Openness to Sexual Practices
This case also highlights the necessity for an open, non-judgmental approach to patients’ sexual practices. Healthcare professionals must create an environment where patients feel comfortable discussing their sexual behaviors, as these can sometimes lead to medical issues, as seen in our patient’s case. This open dialogue could not only aid in accurate diagnoses but also provide opportunities for education about safe sexual practices.

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Relevance to Medical Students and Professionals
This case is relevant to medical students and professionals as it illustrates how symptoms as common as abdominal and rectal pain can stem from unusual causes. It underlines the critical importance of an exhaustive history, comprehensive physical examination, and the appropriate use of diagnostic tools.

The Comprehensive Examination
For medical students, this case serves as a valuable lesson on the importance of a comprehensive examination in diagnosing proctalgia. The combination of a thorough history, physical examination, and relevant imaging led to the diagnosis and successful management of this patient’s condition. This case study reinforces the need for a comprehensive, systematic, and empathetic approach to patient care in clinical practice.


Case Summary
This intriguing case of a 29-year-old man presenting with proctalgia due to a self-inserted foreign body serves as a vivid reminder of the vast diversity of patient cases healthcare professionals encounter. It emphasized the critical importance of a thorough history, a comprehensive physical examination, and appropriate diagnostic imaging in formulating an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.

Key Takeaways
The key takeaway from this case study is the significance of a detailed, non-judgmental approach towards patients, especially concerning their sexual practices. For medical students and professionals, this case underscores that an open-minded, patient-centered approach can uncover vital information that may otherwise be overlooked, affecting the course of diagnosis and treatment. It also highlights the necessity of health education, counseling, and guidance on safe sexual practices.

Broader Implications
In a broader context, this case emphasizes the essence of comprehensive healthcare – it is not just about diagnosing and treating a condition but also involves addressing the underlying behaviors, providing appropriate counseling, and taking preventive measures. This comprehensive approach is vital in ensuring the patient’s overall wellbeing, reducing the chances of recurrence, and promoting better health outcomes.

Final Note
In conclusion, this unique case is a valuable addition to the learning resources for medical students and healthcare professionals. It offers insights into managing complex patient presentations, strengthens understanding of the diagnostic process, and reinforces the importance of a patient-centered, empathetic approach to healthcare.


  • American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons (ASCRS). (2016). Anorectal Abscess and Fistula-in-ano. Link
  • Lake, J. P., Essani, R., Petrone, P., Kaiser, A. M., Asensio, J., & Beart, R. W. Jr. (2004). Management of retained colorectal foreign bodies: Predictors of operative intervention. Diseases of the Colon and Rectum, 47(10), 1694-1698. Link
  • Gupta, S., Kalaskar, S., Taori, K., & Gandhi, R. (2007). Role of radiology in the evaluation of ingested foreign bodies. The Indian Journal of Radiology & Imaging, 17(3), 147. Link

About the Author

Dr. Shahid Irfan is a distinguished digital creator and medical professional specializing in Endocrinology, Dermatology, and Diabetology. Currently practicing at Marham, his knowledge and expertise span a wide array of medical conditions, providing a comprehensive perspective in patient management.

In addition to his practice at Marham, Dr. Irfan is a respected Consultant Endocrinologist at the esteemed Chiang Mai Ram Hospital in Thailand. Here, he employs his robust knowledge and expertise to provide exceptional patient care, demonstrating his commitment to the field of Endocrinology.

Originally from Swat, Pakistan, Dr. Irfan now resides in Chiang Mai, Thailand. His journey traversing different healthcare landscapes has enriched his medical practice, giving him unique international exposure that he brings into his patient care approach.

Dr. Irfan’s passion extends beyond clinical practice. He is devoted to empowering patients and the broader public by making complex medical knowledge more accessible. His detailed case studies, like this one, are testament to his commitment to enhancing understanding of various health conditions.

In this case study, Dr. Irfan draws from his diverse medical expertise and international experience to explore the complexities of a pediatric case, providing invaluable insights for both practicing medical professionals and students.

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