A rectal tube, also called a rectal catheter, is a long slender tube which is inserted into the rectum in order to relieve flatulence which has been chronic and which has not been alleviated by other methods. The term rectal tube is also frequently used to describe a rectal balloon catheter, although they are not exactly the same thing. Both are inserted into the rectum, some as far as the inner colon, and help to collect or draw out gas or feces.
The use of a rectal tube to help remove flatus from the digestive tract is needed primarily in patients who have had a recent surgery on the bowel or anus, or who have another condition which causes the sphincter muscles not to work appropriately enough for gas to pass on its own. It helps to open the rectum and is inserted into the colon to allow gas to move downward and out of the body. This procedure is generally only used once other methods have failed, or when other methods are not recommended due to the patient’s condition.
In some cases, a rectal tube refers to a balloon catheter, which is commonly used to help reduce soiling due to chronic diarrhea. This is a plastic tube inserted into the rectum, which is connected at the other end to a bag used to collect stools. It is only to be used when necessary, as the safety of routine usage has not been established. Serious complications have also been noted, and include rectal perforation and reduced sphincter muscle tone.
Use of a rectal tube and drainage bag does have some benefits for patients who are critically ill, and may include protection for the perineal area and greater safety for health care workers. These are not great enough to warrant use for most patients, but those with prolonged diarrhea or weakened sphincter muscles may benefit. Use of the rectal catheter should be closely monitored and removed as soon as feasible.
Insertion of a rectal tube must be done by a trained professional and it should be completed very carefully using a well-lubricated tube. Patients should be taken to a private area and relaxed for maximum benefits. The nurse or doctor will raise one cheek of the buttocks and carefully insert the tube into the colon. After a few moments, flatus may have exited through the tube, but if not, the procedure may have to be repeated at a later time.