Colonic and anorectal function in constipated patients with anorexia nervosa

Am J Gastroenterol. 1997 Oct;92(10):1879-83.


Objectives: Many patients with eating disorders complain of severe constipation. Previous studies have suggested that constipation in patients with anorexia nervosa may be associated with slow colonic transit. However, it is unclear whether a refeeding program will alter colonic transit in these patients. The aim of this study was to investigate colorectal function by measuring colonic transit and anorectal function in anorexic patients with constipation during treatment with a refeeding program.

Methods: We prospectively studied 13 female patients with anorexia nervosa who were admitted to an inpatient treatment unit and compared them to 20 previously studied, age-matched, healthy female control subjects. Patients underwent colonic transit studies using a radiopaque marker technique and anorectal manometry measuring anal sphincter function, rectal sensation, expulsion dynamics, and rectal compliance. Patients were studied both early (< 3 wk) and late (> 3 wk) in their admission. We restudied two patients who had slow colonic transit. All patients also underwent structured interviews.

Results: Four of six patients studied within the first 3 wk of their admission had slow colonic transit, defined as > 70 h (108.0 +/- 17.0 h, mean +/- SEM), on initial evaluation. In contrast, none of the seven patients studied later than 3 wk into their admission had slow colonic transit. Two of the four patients with slow transit were restudied later in their admission and were found to have normal transit times. Rectal sensation, internal anal sphincter relaxation threshold, rectal compliance, sphincter pressures, and expulsion pattern were normal in all subjects.

Conclusions: Despite complaints of severe constipation, colonic transit is normal or returns to normal in the majority of patients with anorexia nervosa once they are consuming a balanced weight gain or weight maintenance diet for at least 3 wk.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anal Canal / physiopathology
  • Anorexia Nervosa / complications*
  • Colon / physiopathology*
  • Constipation / complications
  • Constipation / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Transit
  • Humans
  • Manometry
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • Rectum / physiopathology*