Rectum

Last revised by Craig Hacking on 18 Feb 2024

The rectum is the last part of the large intestine. It is located within the pelvis and is the continuation of the sigmoid colon after the rectosigmoid junction and continues as the anal canal at the anorectal angle created by puborectalis

At the level of the S3 vertebral body, the sigmoid colon loses its mesentery and becomes the rectum. As the rectum passes in front of the sacrum, it takes a concave shape anteriorly. It is sinuous with three alternating bends laterally. In the distal sigmoid colon, the taenia coli flatten and fuse to form an outer longitudinal muscular layer. Thus, unlike the remaining large intestine, the rectum does not have the distinctive haustra or epiploic appendages. The rectum is approximately 15 cm long. 

If demarcated from a purely gastrointestinal perspective, the rectum extends from the rectosigmoid junction to proximal anorectal sphincter. Its upper third is covered by parietal peritoneum anteriorly and laterally, its mid third only anteriorly and its lower third is not covered by peritoneum.

The lower part of the rectum is dilated and is called the rectal ampulla and there are three semilunar transverse rectal folds (valves of Houston), which project into the rectal lumen.

The rectum continues on as the anal canal at the level of the coccyx tip, where it takes on an acute inferior angle, the anorectal angle or perineal flexure, as it passes anterior to the sling of the puborectalis muscle where it becomes the anal canal. 

Arterial supply to the rectum is formed from an anastomotic submucous plexus derived principally from superior and inferior rectal arteries, and middle rectal artery (if present).

Veins corresponding to their named arteries form a rectal venous plexus, consisting of an internal part within the submucosa, and an external part outside the muscle layer. This represents a site of portosystemic anastomoses.

Lymphatics run with superior rectal vessels to the inferior mesenteric group to drain the upper third. The lower two-thirds drain along the middle rectal vessels to the internal iliac group. 

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Cases and figures

  • Figure 1
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  • Figure 2
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  • Figure 3: rectal anatomy (male)
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  • Figure 4: rectal anatomy (female)
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  • Figure 5: midsagittal female pelvis (Gray's illustration)
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