The role of anal sensation in preserving continence was studied in nine healthy volunteers. Objective assessment of sphincter function by manometry and rectal saline infusion was carried out during topical anaesthesia of the anal canal using 5% lignocaine gel and during lubrication with the same amount of inert gel. Anaesthesia successfully abolished anal sensation and reduced both the amplitude and duration of the voluntary squeeze. Basal pressure was unaffected, but the rectal volume required to produce a sustained internal sphincter relaxation was increased. Saline continence was not impaired. Indeed, two subjects, who were previously unable to retain the full 1500 ml of rectally infused saline, did so when the anal canal was anaesthetised. Our findings suggest that anal sensation is not a critical factor in preserving continence. This implies that the incontinence experienced after anorectal surgery or neuropathy cannot be explained by lack of anal sensation alone.
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