The College of Physicians of Philadelphia Digital Library

Giant Megacolon

About This Item

Title

Giant Megacolon

Subject

Colon
Hirschsprung's Disease
Medical History, 19th Cent.

Description

This colon belonged to a 29-year-old man who had complained of constipation for most of his life. The condition he endured is known as congenital aganglionic megacolon, or Hirschsprung’s disease. It occurs when nerves to part of the colon fail to develop and making it difficult for waste to move to the rectum (aganglionic means “without nerve cells”).

This man was a normal infant up to the age of 18 months, with the exception of a rather large abdomen, coupled with some irregularity of bowels and some constipation. His condition progressed, with the severity of the constipation increasing along with the size of his abdomen. By the age of 16 he would go up to a month at a time without any bowel movements. At 20 he was exhibited at a dime museum as the “Wind Bag” or “Balloon Man.”

During this man’s lifetime, doctors knew that his ailment was not a tumor but rather a defective colon. Surgery to identify and fix the cause would have been extremely risky. He ultimately died of the condition, and was found dead in a bathroom where he was attempting to pass waste.

In Hirschsprung’s disease, only a small section of the colon is usually affected, but the body is unable to transfer normal amounts of waste to any point below the affected section. Chronic constipation ensues. This condition occurs in 1 out of every 5000 to 8000 births. However, today, it is usually identified soon after birth as the baby will have a distended bowel. It is easily corrected with minor surgery in which the affected portion of the bowel is removed and the “good ends” are sewn together.

Publisher

Digitized by the Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia

Date

1892

Identifier

3084

Coverage

19th Century

Original Format

Dried human large intestine; straw and fabric stuffing

Citation

“Giant Megacolon,” The College of Physicians of Philadelphia Digital Library, accessed April 19, 2021, https://www.cppdigitallibrary.org/items/show/4378.