To measure the effects of defunction in the anorectum, 12 patients (seven men and five women aged 59 (44-81) years) were studied after the Hartmann operation. The operation was for septic complications of diverticular disease in nine and sigmoid carcinoma in three patients. Physiology studies were undertaken 1 and 3 months after surgery, and diversion colitis was assessed endoscopically and by mucosal biopsy at 3 months. There was no change in anal sphincter function by three months. Proctometrogram studies, however, showed an appreciable decrease in rectal volume in all cases, by a mean of 35% of the 1 month volume. The maximum tolerable volume at 1 month was 157 (111-210) ml and at 3 months 87 (71-145) ml; p < 0.01. There was no change in rectal sensation or compliance. Erythema and granularity without gross erosions or ulceration were found at endoscopy. Histology showed abnormalities in all cases by 3 months. The characteristic features were of a chronic inflammatory cell infiltrate with surface exudate, microscopic erosions, and lymphoid follicular hyperplasia. Crypt abscesses were not a feature at this stage and there was no distortion of crypt architecture. After defunction the previously normal rectum is affected by diversion colitis which, at 3 months, is mild but has characteristics that distinguish the changes from those of inflammatory bowel disease. It is associated with progressive rectal stump involution.
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