Rectal Hyposensitivity

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Abstract

Rectal hyposensitivity (RH) relates to a diminished perception of rectal distension that is diagnosed during anorectal physiologic investigation. There have been few direct studies of this physiologic abnormality, and its contribution to the development of functional bowel disorders has been relatively neglected. However, it appears to be common in patients with such disorders, being most prevalent in patients with functional constipation with or without fecal incontinence. Indeed, it may be important in the etiology of symptoms in certain patients, given that it is the only “apparent” identifiable abnormality on physiologic testing. Currently, it is usually diagnosed on the basis of elevated sensory threshold volumes during balloon distension in clinical practice, although such a diagnosis may be susceptible to misinterpretation in the presence of altered rectal wall properties, and thus it is uncertain whether a diagnosis of RH reflects true impairment of afferent nerve function. Furthermore, the etiology of RH is unclear, although there is limited evidence to support the role of pelvic nerve injury and abnormal toilet behavior. The optimum treatment of patients with RH is yet to be established. The majority are managed symptomatically, although “sensory-retraining biofeedback” appears to be the most effective treatment, at least in the short term, and is associated with objective improvement in the rectal sensory function. Currently, fundamental questions relating to the contribution of this physiologic abnormality to the development of functional bowel disorders remain unanswered. Acknowledgment of the potential importance of RH is thus required by clinicians and researchers to determine its relevance.

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