Proctalgia fugax

Proctalgia fugax
Classification and external resources
Specialty gastroenterology
ICD-10 K59.4
ICD-9-CM 564.6

Proctalgia fugax (a variant of levator ani syndrome) is a severe, episodic, rectal and sacrococcygeal pain.[1] It can be caused by cramp of the levator ani muscle, particularly in the pubococcygeus.[2]


It most often occurs in the middle of the night[3] and lasts from seconds to minutes,[4] an indicator for the differential diagnosis of levator ani syndrome, which presents as pain and aching lasting twenty minutes or longer. In a study published in 2007 involving 1809 patients, the attacks occurred in the daytime (33 per cent) as well as at night (33 per cent) and the average number of attacks was 13. Onset can be in childhood; however, in multiple studies the average age of onset was 45. Many studies showed that women are affected more commonly than men.[5] This can be at least partly explained by men's reluctance to seek medical advice concerning such a delicate case as rectal pain.[6]

During an episode, the patient feels spasm-like, sometimes excruciating, pain in the anus, often misinterpreted as a need to defecate. Simultaneous stimulation of the local autonomic system can cause erection in males. In some people, twinges sometimes occur shortly after orgasm. Because of the high incidence of internal anal sphincter thickening with the disorder, it is thought to be a disorder of the internal anal sphincter or that it is a neuralgia of pudendal nerves. It is recurrent and there is also no known cure. However, some studies show effective use of botulinum toxin, pudendal nerve block, and calcium channel blockers. It's not known to be linked to any disease process and data on the number of people afflicted vary, but prevalence may be as high as 8%–18%.[4][7] It's thought that only 17-20% of sufferers consult a physician, so obtaining accurate data on occurrence presents a challenge.[4]

The pain episode subsides by itself as the spasm disappears on its own, but may reoccur.[4]

Treatment and prevention

Traditional remedies have ranged from warm baths (if the pain lasts long enough to draw a bath), warm to hot enemas,[8] relaxation techniques, and various medications.

Applying ice or "blue ice" to the area has reportedly benefited some sufferers.

In patients who suffer frequent, severe, prolonged attacks, inhaled salbutamol has been shown in some studies to reduce their duration.[9]

The use of botulinum toxin has been proposed as analgesic,[10] and low dose diazepam at bedtime has been suggested as preventative.[11]

The most common approach for mild cases is simply reassurance and topical treatment with calcium-channel blocker (diltiazem, nifedipine) ointment, salbutamol inhalation and sublingual nitroglycerine.For persistent cases, local anesthetic blocks, clonidine or Botox injections can be considered. [12] Supportive treatments directed at aggravating factors include high-fiber diet, withdrawal of drugs which have gut effects (e.g., drugs that provoke or worsen constipation including narcotics and oral calcium channel blockers; drugs that provoke or worsen diarrhea including quinidine, theophylline, and antibiotics), warm baths, rectal massage, perineal strengthening exercises, anti-cholinergic agents, non-narcotic analgesics, sedatives or muscle relaxants such as diazepam.

High-voltage pulsed galvanic stimulation (HGVS) has been shown to be of prophylactic benefit, to reduce the incidence of attacks. The patient is usually placed in the left lateral decubitus position and a sterile probe is inserted into the anus. The negative electrode is used and the stimulator is set with a pulse frequency of 80 to 120 cycles per second. The voltage (intensity) is started at 0, progressively raised to a threshold of patient discomfort, and then is decreased to a level that the patient finds comfortable. As the patient's tolerance increases, the voltage can be gradually increased to 250 to 350 Volts. Each treatment session usually lasts between 15 to 60 mins. Several studies have reported short-term success rates that ranged from 65 to 91%,.[13][14][15][16]


  1. "levator syndrome" at Dorland's Medical Dictionary
  2. Olden, Kevin W. (1996). Handbook of functional gastrointestinal disorders. New York: M. Dekker. p. 369. ISBN 0-8247-9409-5.
  3. Takano M (2005). "Proctalgia fugax: caused by pudendal neuropathy?". Dis. Colon Rectum. 48 (1): 114–20. doi:10.1007/s10350-004-0736-3. PMID 15690667.
  4. 1 2 3 4 Whitehead WE, Wald A, Diamant NE, Enck P, Pemberton JH, Rao SS (September 1999). "Functional disorders of the anus and rectum". Gut. 45 (Suppl 2): II55–9. doi:10.1136/gut.45.2008.ii55. PMC 1766682Freely accessible. PMID 10457046.
  5. de Parades V, Etienney I, Bauer P, Taouk M, Atienza P (2007). "Proctalgia fugax: demographic and clinical characteristics. What every doctor should know from a prospective study of 54 patients". Dis. Colon Rectum. 50 (6): 893–8. doi:10.1007/s10350-006-0754-4. PMID 17164968.
  6. Brannon, Linda; Feist, Jess (2009-03-19). Health Psychology: An Introduction to Behavior and Health. Cengage Learning. p. 54. ISBN 0495601322.
  7. Jeyarajah, Santhini; Purkayastha, Sanjay (2013-03-19). "Proctalgia fugax". Canadian Medical Association Journal. 185 (5): 417. doi:10.1503/cmaj.101613. ISSN 1488-2329. PMC 3602260Freely accessible. PMID 23184844.
  8. Olsen B (2007). "Proctalgia fugax - a nightmare drowned in enema". Colorectal Disease. 10 (5): 522–3. doi:10.1111/j.1463-1318.2007.01399.x. PMID 17949444.
  9. Eckardt VF, Dodt O, Kanzler G, Bernhard G (1996). "Treatment of proctalgia fugax with salbutamol inhalation". Am. J. Gastroenterol. 91 (4): 686–9. PMID 8677929.
  10. Wollina U, Konrad H, Petersen S (2005). "Botulinum toxin in dermatology - beyond wrinkles and sweat". Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology. 4 (4): 223–7. doi:10.1111/j.1473-2165.2005.00195.x. PMID 17168867.
  11. Pfenninger JL, Zainea GG (2001). "Common anorectal conditions: Part I. Symptoms and complaints". Am Fam Physician. 63 (12): 2391–8. PMID 11430454.
  12. Jeyarajah S, Chow A, Ziprin P, Tilney H, Purkayastha S (September 2010). "Proctalgia fugax, an evidence-based management pathway". Int J Colorectal Dis. 25 (9): 1037–46. doi:10.1007/s00384-010-0984-8. PMID 20556402.
  13. Sohn N, Weinstein MA, Robbins RD. The levator syndrome and its treatment with high-voltage electrogalvanic stimulation. Am J Surg. 1982;144(5):580-582.
  14. Oliver GC, Rubin RJ, Salvati EP, Eisenstat TE. Electrogalvanic stimulation in the treatment of levator syndrome. Dis Colon Rectum. 1985;28(9):662-663.
  15. Nicosia JF, Abcarian H. Levator syndrome: A treatment that works. Dis Colon Rectum. 1985;28(6):406-408.
  16. Morris L, Newton RA. Use of high voltage pulsed galvanic stimulation for patients with levator ani syndrome. Phys Ther. 1987;67(10):1522-1525
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