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"Understanding Hirschsprung's Disease: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options"

Updated: Mar 30

Hirschsprung Disease: A Comprehensive Review


Hirschsprung disease (HSCR) is a congenital disorder affecting the large intestine (colon) in newborns and children. It presents with functional obstruction due to the absence of ganglion cells in a specific intestinal segment. This article delves into the disease's pathophysiology, clinical manifestations, diagnosis, and treatment modalities.

Epidemiology and Pathogenesis

HSCR has an estimated incidence of 1 in 5,000 live births, with a male predominance. It can be isolated or associated with syndromes like Down syndrome. The core pathology lies in the lack of enteric ganglia within the colon, hindering the coordinated peristaltic movements responsible for propelling waste. This leads to intestinal obstruction and a spectrum of symptoms.

Clinical Presentation

Symptoms of HSCR typically manifest within the first few days or weeks of life. The severity often correlates with the length of the affected segment. Common presentations in infants include:

  • Delayed or absent meconium passage (first stool)

  • Abdominal distension (bloating)

  • Vomiting, possibly bilious (greenish-yellow)

  • Fever

  • Diarrhea (less common)

Older children might exhibit:

  • Chronic constipation

  • Severe constipation with fecal incontinence (paradoxical incontinence)

  • Abdominal pain

  • Failure to thrive


Diagnosis of HSCR involves a combination of clinical evaluation and investigations. Tests may include:

  • Abdominal X-ray: Reveals intestinal dilation.

  • Contrast enema: X-ray using contrast material to visualize the narrowed segment.

  • Anorectal manometry: Measures pressure changes in the rectum and anal sphincter.

  • Rectal biopsy: Tissue examination confirms the absence of ganglion cells.


Surgical intervention is the mainstay of treatment for HSCR. The goals are:

  • Removal of the aganglionic segment

  • Restoration of intestinal continuity and normal bowel function

Surgery typically involves a minimally invasive laparoscopic approach to remove the affected colon and reconnect the healthy segment to the anus. In severe cases, temporary ostomy procedures (ileostomy or colostomy) might be necessary to divert stool flow before definitive surgery.


With prompt diagnosis and surgical intervention, the prognosis for children with HSCR is excellent. Most children achieve normal bowel function and experience good long-term outcomes.


Hirschsprung disease presents as a spectrum of intestinal obstruction in neonates and children. Early diagnosis and surgical management are crucial for optimal outcomes, ensuring normal bowel function and improved quality of life.

Post-Pull-Through Management in Hirschsprung Disease: Optimizing Long-Term Outcomes


Pull-through procedures, where the aganglionic segment is resected and the healthy colon is brought down to the anus, are the mainstay of surgical treatment for HD. While generally successful, a subset of patients experiences post-operative complications requiring further management. This article explores the evaluation and management strategies for these complications, aiming to optimize long-term outcomes.

Post-Operative Care and Potential Complications

The typical post-operative course following a pull-through procedure involves hospitalization for 3-7 days. During this time, intravenous fluids are administered for hydration, and pain medication is provided as needed. Maintaining perianal skin integrity is crucial, as frequent stools can lead to irritation. Topical medications are prescribed to address this.

Long-term complications, although uncommon, can occur. Enterocolitis, an intestinal infection, may develop despite surgery. The cause for this is not fully understood, but it typically resolves with age and is treatable with antibiotics and irrigations. Constipation is another potential complication, manageable through dietary modifications and laxatives. In rare cases, fecal incontinence necessitates a bowel management program to promote continence and prevent accidents.

Evaluation and Management of Post-Pull-Through Problems

The type of pull-through procedure (Soave, Swenson, or Duhamel) and the presenting symptoms guide the evaluation of post-operative problems. These issues can be broadly categorized into fecal incontinence and obstructive symptoms.

Fecal Incontinence

Fecal incontinence, the inability to control bowel movements, is an undesirable outcome after a pull-through. A detailed medical history is obtained, focusing on bowel habits, constipation, soiling episodes, and dietary intake. Medications used for diarrhea or constipation, and the need for colonic irrigations or dilations are documented.

A thorough physical examination under anesthesia is performed to assess the anal canal integrity, sphincter function, and the presence of a rectal pouch (Duhamel) or a palpable cuff (Soave). Rectal biopsies are crucial for evaluating nerve function and the presence of residual aganglionosis.

Based on the evaluation, patients with fecal incontinence can be categorized as having problems due to anal sphincter dysfunction or abnormal colonic motility (either too slow or too fast). Management strategies then involve a combination of medical therapies and biofeedback training to improve sphincter control, or surgical interventions to address motility issues.

Obstructive Symptoms and Redo Surgery

Recurrent episodes of abdominal distention and enterocolitis can indicate inadequate stool evacuation after a pull-through. This can lead to a serious condition called enterocolitis with dehydration. When stool stagnates in the colon, bacterial overgrowth ensues, causing diarrhea similar to stagnant water compared to a flowing stream. Chronic issues can impact growth and development (failure to thrive).

Evaluation for obstructive symptoms includes reviewing the surgical history and performing anorectal manometry to assess colonic motility. Imaging studies like contrast enemas may reveal anatomical problems such as strictures (narrowing), kinks, or pouches. Rectal biopsies again play a role in identifying residual aganglionosis or dysmotility (abnormal motility) in the pull-through segment.

If the cause of obstruction is anatomical (stricture, twist, etc.), a redo pull-through surgery can be performed. This involves removing the dysfunctional segment of the pull-through and re-establishing continuity with a healthy colonic segment. Redo surgery offers a high success rate in resolving obstructive symptoms.


Post-operative complications following pull-through procedures for Hirschsprung disease can be effectively managed through a meticulous evaluation process and a tailored treatment approach. By combining medical management, biofeedback, and redo surgery when necessary, long-term continence and optimal outcomes can be achieved for most patients.

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