Subtotal colectomy with ileorectal anastomosis is now frequently offered to patients with slow transit constipation who have severe symptoms and no response to more conventional medical treatment. If this operation is to be successful, the underlying problem should be delay in the progress of contents through the colon but no mechanical or functional obstruction in the small bowel or rectum. We have used a recently described technique of prolonged ambulant manometry and electromyography to investigate anorectal function in these patients. Pressure data were collected using a 2 mm diameter intrarectal probe carrying microtransducers, and external anal sphincter activity was assessed by a pair of silver-silver chloride surface electrodes. Fourteen control subjects and eight patients with colonic inertia were studied. Sampling reflexes, indicative of rectal filling, occurred at mean (SEM) rates of 7.4 (2.0)/hour in controls but were significantly reduced in patients (2.4 (0.3)/hour (p less than 0.01]. Recurrent rectal motor complexes were seen to occur in both groups at intervals of 76 (1.8) minutes in controls and 64.9 (7.2) minutes in patients (p less than 0.1), and with amplitudes of 42.4 (2.1) mmHg and 9.2 (0.7) mmHg (p less than 0.001), respectively. External sphincter electromyographic spike activity did not differ between groups. Our results support the concept of reduced transit of faeces to the rectum from the colon over a 24 hour period in slow transit constipation and suggest that a motor neuropathy may also be present in the rectum.
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