Effect of age, gender, and parity on anal canal pressures

Contribution of impaired anal sphincter function to fecal incontinence


The contribution of the resting anal canal pressure (RAP) and the maximal squeeze pressure (MSP) to the problem of fecal incontinence was assessed by comparing 143 incontinent patients to a control population of 157 healthy subjects. These parameters were determined using a multilumen continuously perfused catheter and a mechanized rapid pull-through technique. In 10 male volunteers both RAP and MSP were determined using catheters that varied from 3 mm to 18 mm in diameter. In the control population, the RAP was significantly lower in females 40 years of age and over as compared to males. MSP values were significantly lower in females at virtually all ages. In women, parity did not correlate with RAP (coefficient=−0.099, P>0.05) and MSP (coefficient=−0.123, P>0.05) and any decrease in pressures was related to aging. Aging in women was associated with a consistent reduction in RAP (coefficient=−0.614, P<0.0005) and MSP (coefficient=−0.372, P=0.0006). In males, there was a similar but less impressive age-related reduction for the RAP (coefficient=−0.333, P=0.006) but not for the MSP (coefficient=−0.196, P>0.05). Nine percent of the volunteer population were essentially unable to increase the RAP with maximal squeeze efforts. A linear increase in anal pressures was recorded as catheter diameter increased from 3 to 12 mm. Normative data for the RAP and MSP (mean ±2sd) were constructed for each sex on a decade basis and showed a wide range of pressures for each age grouping. In the group with fecal incontinence (FI) 39% of females and 44% of males fell within the “normal” range for both the RAP and MSP. For all patients with FI, 41% and 17% had impairment of one or both parameters, respectively. It is concluded that: (1) aging affects the RAP in both sexes but to a greater degree in women. The MSP is related to aging in women only; (2) child bearing has no effect upon these parameters; (3) clinical problems of bowel control can occur when sphincter pressure measurements are within the low “normal” range; and (4) recording instrument diameter consistently affects RAP and MSP.

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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Dr. Sean M. McHugh MD.

Additional information

Supported through the Physicians Services Incorporated, the Toronto Western Hospital Foundation University of Toronto Dean's Fund, and the Elsie Watt Foundation

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McHugh, S.M., Diamant, N.E. Effect of age, gender, and parity on anal canal pressures. Digest Dis Sci 32, 726–736 (1987). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01296139

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Key Words

  • fecal incontinence
  • anal sphincter function
  • effect of age
  • gender
  • and parity