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Rectal prolapse can be either partial or complete. In partial prolapse, only the mucosa layer (mucous membrane) of the rectum extends outside the body. The projection is generally 0.75-1.5 in (2-4 cm) long. In complete prolapse, called procidentia, the full thickness of the rectum protrudes for up to 4.5 in (12 cm).
Rectal prolapse is most common in people over age 60, and occurs much more frequently in women than in men. It is also more common in psychiatric patients. Prolapse can occur in normal infants, where it is usually transient. In children it is often an early sign of cystic fibrosis or is due to neurological or anatomical abnormalities.
Although rectal prolapse in adults may initially reduce spontaneously after bowel movements, it eventually becomes permanent. Adults who have had prior rectal or vaginal surgery, who have chronic constipation, regularly depend on laxatives, have multiple sclerosis or other neurologic diseases, stroke, or paralysis are more likely to experience rectal prolapse.