Clinical evaluation of a patient with symptoms of colonic or anorectal motility disorders

Bryan Curtin, Enoe Jimenez, Satish S.C. Rao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, fecal incontinence, abdominal pain, and anorectal pain are problems that affect 40% of the population. They commonly present with overlapping symptoms indicating that their pathophysiology affects multiple segments of the gut as well as brain and gut interactions. Clinically, although some conditions are readily recognized, dyssynergic defecation, fecal incontinence, and anorectal pain are often missed or misdiagnosed. Consequently, the assessment of lower gastrointestinal symptoms in patients with suspected colonic or anorectal motility disorder(s) remains challenging for most clinicians. A detailed history, use of the Bristol stool form scale, prospective stool diaries, ideally through a phone App, digital rectal examination, and judicious use of complementary diagnostic tests are essential. Additionally, it is important to evaluate the impact of these problems on quality of life and psychosocial issues, because they are intricately linked with these disorders. The Rome IV diagnostic questionnaire for functional gastrointestinal disorders can provide additional information often missed during history taking. Here, we discuss a systematic approach for the clinical evaluation of patients with suspected lower gastrointestinal problems, grouped under 4 common diagnostic categories. We describe how to take a detailed history, perform meticulous digital rectal examination, and use validated tools to supplement clinical evaluation, including assessments of quality of life and scoring systems for disease severity and digital Apps. These tools could facilitate a comprehensive plan for clinical management including diagnostic tests, and translate the patients’ complaints into definable, diagnostic categories.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)423-436
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2020


  • Anorectal pain
  • Constipation
  • Diagnostic tests, routine
  • Fecal incontinence
  • Irritable bowel syndrome

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Gastroenterology


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