Electrical activity of the colon was investigated in six healthy volunteers and 22 patients presenting functional colonic disorders associated with pain, constipation, or diarrhoea. Myoelectrical activity during 10 hours, including two daily meals, was recorded from eight groups of nickel-chrome electrodes using a 1.5 m length probe introduced by the rectal route. Electromyograms of volunteers consisted of slow waves at two distinct rhythms, approximately 3 and 10 cycles per minute, during 16 to 28% of the recording time respectively for each site. Action potentials were also recorded as 11 to 80 short spike bursts (SSB) per hour lasting 1.5 to 3.5 s at any site and 20-26 long spike bursts (LSB) per hour, lasting 17 to 21 s, occurring in series of four to eight propagated bursts. Additional high-velocity propagated bursts were recorded during the three hour postprandial period. Three typical changes in spike activity patterns were detected: an increase by 170-420% of the number of SSB associated to a high spiking activity was recorded in 13 patients (group I), the absence of SSB, a low spiking activity level and only 3 to 8 LSB per hour (group II), in six patients; and the postprandial response was absent (group III) in three other investigated patients. Evidence for three groups of motor disturbances and their possible relation to clinical manifestations of functional disorders is presented.
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