Hirschsprung’s disease is the result of congenital absence of the parasympathetic ganglion cells of the intramural plexus of the distal colon and rectum. This defect leads to persistent contraction of the affected bowel segment. Typical Hirschsprung’s disease is easily distinguished from idiopathic constipation. Infants with Hirschsprung’s disease exhibit delayed passage of meconium and infrequent stools. This, associated with marked abdominal distention and progressive vomiting of bile, presents a classic picture of bowel obstruction.
The rectum is empty and withdrawal of the examining finger is often followed by an explosive discharge of stool and gas. Rarely, the presentation is atypical and the diagnosis is delayed for several years. Features that differentiate chronic constipation from Hirschsprung’s disease are summarized in Table 1. Infants with this disease are always at risk of developing severe, life-threatening enterocolitis.
Ultra-short segment Hirschsprung’s disease is a controversial entity said to be clinically identical to chronic constipation. If it exists at all, it is extremely rare. It is believed to be diagnosed only by rectal ma-nometry, but the reliability of this method to diagnose any form of Hirschsprung’s disease has been questioned.
|Table 1. Clinical Differences Between Hirschsprung’s Disease And Chronic Constipation With Fecal Retention|
|Clinical Characteristics||Hirschsprung’s Disease||Chronic Constipation|
|Problems with bowel training||Rare||Common|
|Size of stool||Normal or small||Huge|
|Failure to thrive||Common||Uncommon|
|Abdominal fecal mass||Rare||Common|
|Fecal mass||Never||Very common|
|Explosive discharge of feces and gas after withdrawal of finger||Common||Never|