Update of tests of colon and rectal structure and function

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

95 Scopus citations


This review deals with the indications, methods, strengths, and limitations of anorectal testing in clinical practice. In chronic constipation, anal manometry and a rectal balloon expulsion test, occasionally supplemented by defecography, are useful to identify a functional defecatory disorder, because symptoms may respond to pelvic floor retraining. In patients with fecal incontinence, diagnostic testing complements the clinical assessment for evaluating the pathophysiology and guiding management. Manometry measures anal resting and squeeze pressures, which predominantly reflect internal and external anal sphincter function, respectively. Defecation may be indirectly assessed by measuring the recto-anal pressure gradient during straining and by the rectal balloon expulsion test. Endoanal ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can identify anal sphincter structural pathology, which may be clinically occult, and/or amenable to surgical repair. Only MRI can identify external sphincter atrophy, whereas ultrasound is more sensitive for internal sphincter imaging. By characterizing rectal evacuation and puborectalis contraction, barium defecography may demonstrate an evacuation disorder, excessive perineal descent or a rectocele. Dynamic MRI can provide similar information and also image the bladder and genital organs without radiation exposure. Because the measurement of pudendal nerve latencies suffers from several limitations, anal sphincter electromyography is recommended when neurogenic sphincter weakness is suspected.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)96-103
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of clinical gastroenterology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2006


  • Anorectal
  • Disordered defecation
  • Fecal incontinence
  • MRI
  • Manometry
  • Ultrasound

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gastroenterology


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