Rectal compliance as a routine measurement: extreme volumes have direct clinical impact and normal volumes exclude rectum as a problem

Dis Colon Rectum. 2000 Dec;43(12):1732-8. doi: 10.1007/BF02236859.


Purpose: The clinical impact of rectal compliance and sensitivity measurement is not clear. The aim of this study was to measure the rectal compliance in different patient groups compared with controls and to establish the clinical effect of rectal compliance.

Methods: Anorectal function tests were performed in 974 consecutive patients (284 men). Normal values were obtained from 24 controls. Rectal compliance measurement was performed by filling a latex rectal balloon with water at a rate of 60 ml per minute. Volume and intraballoon pressure were measured. Volume and pressure at three sensitivity thresholds were recorded for analysis: first sensation, urge, and maximal toleration. At maximal toleration, the rectal compliance (volume/pressure) was calculated. Proctoscopy, anal manometry, anal mucosal sensitivity, and anal endosonography were also performed as part of our anorectal function tests.

Results: No effect of age or gender was observed in either controls or patients. Patients with fecal incontinence had a higher volume at first sensation and a higher pressure at maximal toleration (P = 0.03), the presence of a sphincter defect or low or normal anal pressures made no difference. Patients with constipation had a larger volume at first sensation and urge (P < 0.0001 and P < 0.01). Patients with a rectocele had a larger volume at first sensation (P = 0.004). Patients with rectal prolapse did not differ from controls; after rectopexy, rectal compliance decreased (P < 0.0003). Patients with inflammatory bowel disease had a lower rectal compliance, most pronounced in active proctitis (P = 0.003). Patients with ileoanal pouches also had a lower compliance (P < 0.0001). In the 17 patients where a maximal toleration volume < 60 ml was found, 11 had complaints of fecal incontinence, and 6 had a stoma. In 31 patients a maximal toleration volume between 60 and 100 ml was found; 12 patients had complaints of fecal incontinence, and 6 had a stoma. Proctitis or pouchitis was the main cause for a small compliance. All 29 patients who had a maximal toleration volume > 500 ml had complaints of constipation. No correlation between rectal and anal mucosal sensitivity was found.

Conclusion: Rectal compliance measurement with a latex balloon is easily feasible. In this series of 974 patients, some patient groups showed an abnormal rectal visceral sensitivity and compliance, but there was an overlap with controls. Rectal compliance measurement gave a good clinical impression about the contribution of the rectum to the anorectal problem. Patients with proctitis and pouchitis had the smallest rectal compliance. A maximal toleration volume < 60 ml always led to fecal incontinence, and stomas should be considered for such patients. A maximal toleration volume > 500 ml was only seen in constipated patients, and therapy should be given to prevent further damage to the pelvic floor. Values close to or within the normal range rule out the rectum as an important factor in the anorectal problem of the patient.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Controlled Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Child
  • Compliance
  • Endosonography
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Diseases / diagnostic imaging
  • Intestinal Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Manometry
  • Middle Aged
  • Rectal Diseases / diagnostic imaging
  • Rectal Diseases / physiopathology
  • Rectum / diagnostic imaging
  • Rectum / physiology*
  • Reference Values
  • Sensitivity and Specificity