A retrospective study of 80 patients with biopsy-proven solitary rectal ulcer (SRU) was conducted to review its clinical spectrum. The median follow-up was 25 months. The female-to-male ratio was 1.4:1.0, and the mean age was 48.7 years (range, 14-76 years). Principal symptoms were bowel disturbances (74 percent) and rectal bleeding (56 percent). Twenty-one patients (26 percent) were asymptomatic and required no treatment. A previous "wrong" diagnosis was made in 25 percent. Rectal prolapse was identified in 28 percent (full-thickness, 15 percent; mucosal, 13 percent). The macroscopic appearance of the lesion seen in SRU varied widely and included polypoid lesions in 44 percent (the predominant finding in the asymptomatic group), ulcerated lesions in 29 percent (always symptomatic), and edematous, nonulcerated, hyperemic mucosa in 27 percent. Anorectal manometry provided little helpful information in the patients in whom it was performed. Management by bulk laxatives and bowel retraining led to symptomatic improvement in 19 percent of cases. In 29 percent of cases, symptoms persisted despite endoscopic healing of the lesion. Intractability of symptoms led to surgery in only 27 (34 percent) patients. Depending on the presence or absence of rectal prolapse, rectopexy or a conservative local procedure (such as local excision), respectively, appeared to be the optimal surgical treatment. The polypoid variety tended to respond to therapy more favorably than non-polypoid varieties. Thus, the macroscopic appearance of SRU has a significant bearing on the clinical course, and most cases do not require surgery.