Clinical Impact of Rectal Hyposensitivity: A Cross-Sectional Study of 2,876 Patients With Refractory Functional Constipation

Paul F. Vollebregt, Rebecca E. Burgell, Richard L. Hooper, Charles H. Knowles, S. Mark Scott

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INTRODUCTION: Normal bowel function requires intact sensory pathways. Diminished rectal sensation (rectal hyposensitivity [RH]) is associated with constipation, although its clinical importance remains unclear. METHODS: Consecutive patients (aged 18-80) attending a tertiary center (2004-2016) for investigation of refractory functional constipation (Rome IV core criteria defined, applied post hoc) were included. Patients completed a clinical symptom questionnaire and underwent anorectal physiologic investigations, including rectal sensory testing (balloon distension) to determine 3 well-established sensory thresholds. Multivariate regression analyses were performed to evaluate associations between RH, symptomology, and allied physiologic investigations. RESULTS: Of 2,876 patients meeting inclusion criteria, 722 (25%) had RH based on ≥1 elevated sensory thresholds (0: n = 2,154 [74.9%]; 1: n = 327 [11.4%]; 2: n = 209 [7.3%]; and 3: n = 186 [6.5%]). A linear relationship existed between increasing number of elevated sensory thresholds and constipation severity (Cleveland Clinic constipation score: mean difference per threshold [95% confidence interval] 0.69 [0.48-0.90]; P < 0.001). Several symptoms were significantly (P < 0.05) associated with RH including: infrequent defecation (odds ratio 1.29 [1.17-1.42]), painful evacuation (1.15 [1.05-1.27]), prolonged toileting (1.14 [1.05-1.24]), and digitation or enema use (1.18 [1.08-1.30]). On defecography, a "functional" evacuation disorder was also associated with RH (1.37 [1.25-1.50], P < 0.001), as was megarectum (2.52 [2.08-3.05], P < 0.001). DISCUSSION: RH occurs in 25% of patients with refractory functional constipation. Increased number of elevated sensory thresholds is associated with more severe constipation phenotype. These data, in the largest study to date, provide for the first time evidence to show that RH is a major pathophysiologic mechanism in constipation, with recognized clinical impact ( is included in full-text article.).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)758-768
Number of pages11
JournalAmerican Journal of Gastroenterology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2021

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