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Dis Colon Rectum. 1991 May;34(5):409-15.

External anal sphincter function in spinal patients. Electromyographic and manometric study.

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  • 1Groupe de Biochimie et de Physiopathologie Digestive et Nutritionnelle, UER M├ędecine et Pharmacie, Rouen, France.


Six patients with complete transection of the spinal cord and six healthy volunteers were examined by using anorectal manometry together with electromyographic (EMG) recording of the external anal sphincter composed of striated muscle. Anal pressure and EMG activity of the external anal sphincter were continuously recorded at rest and during gradual rectal distention (10, 20, 30, 40, and 50 ml) by means of an air-filled balloon eliciting a rectoanal inhibitory reflex (RAIR) at the upper part, and an inflation reflex (IR) at the lower part of the anal canal. All patients and controls had a RAIR for each rectal distention volume. A relationship between the duration of the RAIR and the rectal distention volume was present in controls only. In controls the IR was present for each rectal distention volume, whereas it was present in only one patient for a 40-ml volume. During the resting period, all controls showed continuous tonic EMG activity of the external anal sphincter, but after 30 minutes all the patients showed a decrease and ultimately in five cases a disappearance of the tonic EMG activity of the external anal sphincter. In spinal patients, the presence or absence of EMG activity of the external anal sphincter did not modify the anal canal pressure. These results indicate that: 1) the tonic EMG activity of the external anal sphincter seems to be under the control of supraspinal structures, because in spinal patients it disappears in the absence of sensitive inputs toward the spinal cord; 2) the absence of EMG activity at rest indicates that the external anal sphincter is not implicated in the RAIR disturbances observed in spinal patients; 3) the IR is not a spinal reflex but is under voluntary control, because it is not present in spinal humans; 4) in spinal humans the tonic EMG activity of the external anal sphincter does not play a role in the maintenance of the anal pressure at rest.

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