Movements of the Large Intestine

lumen of large The movements of the large intestine—

intestine mixing and peristalsis—are similar to those of the small intestine, although usually slower. The mixing movements break the fecal matter into segments and turn it so that all portions are exposed to the intestinal mucosa. This helps absorb water and electrolyte.

The peristaltic waves of the large intestine are different from those of the small intestine. Instead of occurring frequently, they happen only two or three times each day. These waves produce mass movements in which a large section of the intestinal wall constricts vigorously, forcing the intestinal contents to move toward the rectum. Typically, mass movements follow a meal, as a result of the gastrocolic reflex. Irritation of the intestinal mucosa can also trigger such movements. For instance, a person suffering from an inflamed colon (colitis) may experience frequent mass movements.

When it is appropriate to defecate, a person usually can initiate a defecation reflex by holding a deep breath and contracting the abdominal wall muscles. This action increases the internal abdominal pressure and forces feces into the rectum. As the rectum fills, its wall is distended and the defecation reflex is triggered, stimulating peristaltic waves in the descending colon, and the internal anal sphincter relaxes. At the same time, other reflexes involving the sacral region of the spinal cord strengthen the peristaltic waves, lower the diaphragm, close the glottis, and contract the abdominal wall muscles. These actions additionally increase the internal abdominal pressure and squeeze the rectum. The external anal sphincter is signaled to relax, and the feces are forced to the outside. A person can voluntarily inhibit defecation by contracting the external anal sphincter.

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Essentials of Human Physiology

Essentials of Human Physiology

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