Severe idiopathic constipation is associated with a distinctive abnormality of the colonic myenteric plexus

Gastroenterology. 1985 Jan;88(1 Pt 1):26-34. doi: 10.1016/s0016-5085(85)80128-1.


We analyzed the clinical, radiographic, esophageal manometric, and pathologic features of 26 women with severe, idiopathic constipation. Twenty-four patients were between 19 and 39 yr of age. Stool frequency was once every 5-28 days. On barium enema examination, 9 of 24 patients had colons of increased length and 4 of these 9 patients had colons of increased width (greater than 10 cm). Radionuclide solid-meal gastric-emptying studies were normal in 23 patients tested. Esophageal manometry demonstrated high-amplitude waves in 10 of 22 patients and long-duration waves in 3 of these 10 patients. Rectal biopsy specimens showed normal submucosal neurons in all patients and melanosis coli in 6. Twelve patients underwent subtotal colectomies for constipation. Conventional light microscopy using hematoxylin and eosin serial sections showed (a) melanosis coli in 4 patients; (b) normal smooth muscle in 11; (c) thinning of the circular muscle in 1; and (d) no apparent abnormalities of the myenteric plexus in any. In contrast, silver stains of the myenteric plexus showed (a) quantitatively reduced numbers of argyrophilic neurons in 10 patients; (b) morphologically abnormal argyrophilic neurons in 11; (c) decreased numbers of axons in 11; and (d) increased numbers of variably sized nuclei within ganglia in all 12. A coded analysis of the silver stains of colons from 8 patients with constipation and 19 control cases demonstrated that the pathologic abnormalities of severe idiopathic constipation could be differentiated from controls. Thus, severe idiopathic constipation is associated with a pathologically identifiable abnormality of the myenteric plexus. This abnormality appears different from anything previously described in intestinal pseudoobstruction.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biopsy
  • Colectomy
  • Colon / innervation*
  • Constipation / diagnosis
  • Constipation / etiology*
  • Constipation / pathology
  • Digestive System / diagnostic imaging
  • Esophagus / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Gastric Emptying
  • Humans
  • Manometry
  • Middle Aged
  • Myenteric Plexus / pathology*
  • Neurons / pathology
  • Radiography
  • Rectum / pathology