from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • noun A painfully urgent but ineffectual attempt to urinate or defecate.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • noun In medicine, a continual inclination to void the contents of the bowels or bladder, accompanied by straining, but with little or no discharge.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • noun (Med.) An urgent and distressing sensation, as if a discharge from the intestines must take place, although none can be effected; -- always referred to the lower extremity of the rectum.
  • noun a similar sensation as to the evacuation of urine, referred to the region of the bladder.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • noun The painful and often ineffectual straining to relieve the bowels
  • noun a painfully urgent need to urinate or defecate that results in little being passed

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • noun painful spasm of the anal sphincter along with an urgent desire to defecate without the significant production of feces; associated with irritable bowel syndrome


from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

[Medieval Latin tēnesmus, variant of Latin tēnesmos, from Greek teinesmos, from teinein, to strain, stretch; see ten- in Indo-European roots.]


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  • In the first place, tenesmus, accompanied with pain, attacked many, but more especially children, and all who had not attained to puberty; and the most of these died.

    Of The Epidemics

  • Herophon was seized with an acute fever; alvine discharges at first were scanty, and attended with tenesmus; but afterwards they were passed of a thin, bilious character, and frequent; there was no sleep; urine black, and thin.

    Of The Epidemics

  • The diseases which attacked them were in the form of dysenteries, tenesmus, lientery, and fluxes; but, in some cases, there were dropsies, with or without these complaints.

    Of The Epidemics

  • Samuel may not have noted tenesmus because there was nothing to report.

    A Furnace Afloat

  • In some men, this brought vomiting, but the most common reactions were waves of painful peristalsis in the gut, accompanied by tenesmus, a desire, but inability, to use the bathroom.

    A Furnace Afloat

  • This is followed almost immediately by various symptoms; more rapid breathing, lowered arterial pressure, faster heart-beat, vomiting, blood diarrhoea and rectal tenesmus.

    Charles Richet - Nobel Lecture

  • "Severe vomiting, diarrhoea, rectal tenesmus: unable to keep standing, she urinates under herself; the pupils are dilated, the eyes haggard; complete mind-blindness, near-total failure of reflexes, deep unconsciousness, breathing dyspneic, heart-beat faint and very fast, pulse barely perceptible; dead in thirty-six hours."

    Charles Richet - Nobel Lecture

  • Purging not always present, but tenesmus and strangury.

    Aids to Forensic Medicine and Toxicology

  • Acrid, metallic taste, constriction and burning in throat and stomach, nausea, vomiting of stringy mucus tinged with blood, tenesmus, purging.

    Aids to Forensic Medicine and Toxicology

  • _ -- Burning pain and constriction in throat and gullet, pain and tenderness of stomach and bowels, intense thirst, nausea, vomiting, purging and tenesmus, with bloody stools, dysuria, cold skin, and feeble and irregular pulse.

    Aids to Forensic Medicine and Toxicology


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  • "In any case it was almost time for his evening rounds: they amounted to a couple of obstinate gleets and a tenesmus..."

    --P. O'Brian, The Hundred Days, 160

    And a fine candidate for reesetee's "Worse Than They Sound" list.

    March 25, 2008

  • Eesh. Added.

    March 25, 2008

  • A word everyone's probably experienced but didn't know that it had a proper name.

    May 24, 2014