Rectal irrigation: a useful tool in the armamentarium for functional bowel disorders

Colorectal Dis. 2012 Jun;14(6):748-52. doi: 10.1111/j.1463-1318.2011.02797.x.


Aim: The efficacy of rectal irrigation (RI) was assessed in patients with various functional bowel disorders.

Method: A prospective analysis was carried out of patients presenting to our functional bowel clinic from 2005 to 2009. The Cleveland Clinic Constipation and Incontinence Scores were used to assess outcomes following rectal irrigation. Patients were asked if they were satisfied with RI and would recommend it to a friend.

Results: Ninety-one patients (80 female, median age 51 (17-78) years had undergone rectal irrigation for the following indications: chronic constipation (n = 32), slow transit constipation (n = 18), obstructed defaecation (n = 10), and faecal incontinence (n = 31). Of the 60 patients with constipation, 50 (83%) were available for follow up. Mean constipation scores improved from 18.72 to 11.45 following rectal irrigation (P = 0.001). Twenty-five patients experienced failure of RI to control symptoms, 10 of whom were offered surgery. Of the patients with incontinence, 20 (67%) were available for follow up. Mean incontinence scores improved from 16.2 to 10.8 with rectal irrigation (P = 0.005). Twelve patients discontinued RI, the commonest reason being lack of improvement in symptoms. Seven of these patients were offered surgery. The only complication was in one patient with constipation who had minor rectal bleeding following irrigation, which was stopped.

Conclusion: Rectal irrigation can be a useful tool in the management of functional bowel disorders and should be tried prior to the consideration of any surgery. However, further work is needed to define the precise indications and patient selection criteria.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Chronic Disease
  • Constipation / therapy*
  • Fecal Incontinence / therapy*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Satisfaction
  • Rectum
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Therapeutic Irrigation*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Young Adult