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Tenesmus: One of the Most Uncomfortable IBD Symptoms.

Tenesmus: One of the Most Uncomfortable IBD Symptoms

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. This 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. So, I had to return to the toilet, even though nothing was left to expel. It seemed like my whole day was constantly running to the bathroom and 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 tenesmus?

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. 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.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • thedancingcrohnie moderator
    1 year ago

    I too had no idea what the term was called. Thank you for writing this. I suffered from this intensely! It is the worse.

    Always dancing,
    Elizabeth (team member)

  • marsh222
    2 years ago

    Thank you so much this article – I had no idea there was a term for the symptom I feel most of the time.

  • SusanHU
    2 years ago

    Thank you for your kind words @March222 – we’re so glad you found it helpful!

    – Susan ( Team Member)

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