Rectovaginal Endometriosis: Anatomy, Sensation, and Relief

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Rectovaginal endometriosis is a subtype of endometriosis in which the lining of the uterus (the endometrium) grows around the rectum, the vagina, and the structures between them. There is no cure for endometriosis. Rectovaginal endometriosis is the most severe form of endometriosis.

This article will discuss rectovaginal endometriosis, including general facts about the condition, symptoms, what to do if you think you may have it, treatment options, and more.

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Rectovaginal Endometriosis Facts

Understanding the incidence, location, and effect on bowel movements is essential for understanding rectovaginal endometriosis. Facts include:

  • Incidence: Rectovaginal endometriosis affects between 3.8% and 37% of people who have endometriosis.
  • Location: Rectovaginal endometriosis affects various structures, including the rectum (the last few inches of the large intestine closest to the anus), the vagina, the rectovaginal septum (a structure that separates the vagina from the rectum), and the posterior cul-de-sac (the space behind the vagina and uterus, also called the pouch of Douglas).
  • Effect on bowel movements: Rectovaginal endometriosis can affect bowel movements by causing constipation, painful bowel movements, rectal bleeding, and diarrhea.

Rectovaginal Symptoms and Pain

Symptoms of endometriosis overall include:

  • Heavy periods
  • Painful cramps during menstruation
  • Pelvic pain
  • Pain during sex
  • Infertility
  • Fatigue
  • Bladder issues

Symptoms specific to rectovaginal endometriosis include:

  • Painful bowel movements
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Constipation (difficulty and/or straining)
  • Diarrhea
  • Bloating and/or fluid retention
  • Severe stomach/pelvic pain

It is important to note that not everyone with rectovaginal endometriosis will have symptoms. As well, the severity of symptoms experienced will vary based on the individual.

Other Common Sites for Endometriosis

In endometriosis, the endometrium can grow in locations such as:

If You Suspect You Have Rectovaginal Endometriosis

See a healthcare provider to discuss your concerns if you suspect you have rectovaginal endometriosis. They will most likely ask about your symptoms and perform a pelvic exam.

Imaging tests such as an ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography (CT) colonography may be used to help make a diagnosis. That said, these tests cannot always detect abnormal tissue growth.

Laparoscopy (making small incisions and inserting a camera and surgical tools) may be performed to confirm the diagnosis and for treatment.

Diagnostic Delays

It has been well-documented that endometriosis is difficult to diagnose, and there are many misconceptions surrounding the condition. A 2017 study found an average diagnostic delay of 4.4 years in the United States. Those who were referred to ob-gyns (obstetrician-gynecologists) had a shorter delay in diagnosis than those who were diagnosed by other healthcare providers.

Treatment Options for Relief

There are various treatment options to help relieve the symptoms associated with rectovaginal endometriosis.

Hormonal birth control may be recommended, either as oral pills or implants. Pain-relieving medications may also be recommended.


Surgery is often used to remove excess endometrial tissue in rectovaginal endometriosis. This is usually recommended for severe cases in which the tissue could cause complications. A 2013 study found that surgery can improve up to 70% of symptoms for rectovaginal endometriosis.

The procedure can be performed through the vaginal opening, laparoscopically (using small incisions and inserting tools), by laparotomy (using a larger incision into the abdominal cavity), or by combining techniques.

Bowel prep is a necessary component for endometriosis surgery. Bowel prep cleanses the bowel so the surgery can be done safely. A bowel prep includes a liquid diet and consuming a mixture that helps empty the bowels. Talk to your healthcare provider about potential concerns you may have and confirm what liquids are allowed.

After your surgery, your healthcare provider will provide post-op instructions. Be sure to follow these carefully.

Possible complications from surgery include:

  • Bleeding into the abdomen
  • Leaks where connections (anastomoses) were made
  • Rectovaginal fistulas (a connection between the rectum and the vagina)
  • Strictures (narrowing)
  • Chronic constipation
  • More operations
  • Recurrence of rectal endometriosis


Rectovaginal endometriosis is a subset of endometriosis in which the endometrium extends to the vagina, rectum, and the structures between them. Symptoms include painful bowel movements, severe stomach pain, bloating, and more.

While diagnosis can be difficult and take time, those who suspect they have any type of endometriosis should consult a healthcare provider regarding their symptoms. While there is no cure for endometriosis, treatment options are available, including hormonal treatment and surgery.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How does endometriosis in or on the rectum feel?

    Endometriosis in or on the rectum has a number of symptoms including painful bowel movements, difficulty or straining while having a bowel movement, rectal bleeding that can accompany menstrual bleeding, constipation, and diarrhea.

  • Is untreated rectovaginal endometriosis dangerous?

    Untreated rectovaginal endometriosis can be dangerous if the excess tissue causes bowel obstructions. Bowel obstructions can lead to a hole in the bowel or decrease blood supply to the bowel. Both of these can be fatal.

  • How effective are colonoscopies for diagnosing rectovaginal endo?

    Colonoscopies have not been found to be an effective diagnostic tool for rectovaginal endometriosis. Because it is an invasive and ineffective procedure, a colposcopy is not recommended to diagnose rectovaginal endometriosis.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Myths and misconceptions in endometriosis.

  3. Soliman AM, Fuldeore M, Snabes MC. Factors associated with time to endometriosis diagnosis in the United StatesJ Womens Health (Larchmt) 2017;26:788–797. doi:10.1089/jwh.2016.6003

  4. How to survive a bowel preparation.

  5. Milone M, Mollo A, Musella M, et al. Role of colonoscopy in the diagnostic work-up of bowel endometriosisWorld J Gastroenterol. 2015;21(16):4997-5001. doi:10.3748/wjg.v21.i16.4997

By Molly Burford
Molly Burford is a mental health advocate and wellness book author with almost 10 years of experience in digital media.