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Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2001 Dec;13(6):591-8.

Altered periodic rectal motor activity: a mechanism for slow transit constipation.

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Department of Internal Medicine, University of Iowa College of Medicine, Iowa City, Iowa, USA.


The pathophysiology of slow transit constipation is poorly understood. Both decreased and increased distal colonic motility have been reported. In healthy humans, a 3 cycles per minute (cpm), periodic rectal motor activity (PRMA) has been described. Our aim was to investigate the characteristics of PRMA and to assess its role in the pathogenesis of constipation. A six-sensor solid-state probe was placed with the tip sensor in the mid-transverse colon, without sedation, and prolonged colonic motility was recorded in nine patients with slow transit constipation (1M, 8F) and in 11 healthy subjects (3M, 8F). Subjects were free to ambulate. We examined the frequency, nocturnal vs. diurnal variation, and characteristics of PRMA, and its relationship to proximal colonic motility. All subjects showed PRMA. The rhythm was similar (2.5-4 cpm) in both groups. However, constipated patients exhibited a greater (P < 0.001) number of PRMA cycles than controls. The duration of each cycle and amplitude of pressure waves during PRMA were also greater (P < 0.05) at night in patients compared with controls. In patients, 40% of PRMA cycles were associated with a proximal colonic motor event compared with 81% in controls (P < 0.02). The area under the curve of all colonic pressure waves and incidence of specialized propagating pressure waves was lower (P < 0.05) in patients during daytime. When compared with controls, constipated patients exhibited reduced daytime colonic pressure waves and a higher frequency of PRMA. Most of the PRMA was unrelated to proximal colonic activity in constipated patients in contrast with findings in control patients. In addition to decreased colonic motility, this excessive and unco-ordinated phasic rectal activity may further impede stool transport and contribute to the pathogenesis of slow transit constipation.

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