Retrograde peristalsis is a muscular movement of hollow organs such as the esophagus, stomach, intestine, ureter, uterus and fallopian tubes. In this movement, they actively transport their contents against the physiological direction. The retrograde peristalsis has a protective function and occurs physiologically in the intestine to store stool.

What is retrograde peristalsis?

Retrograde peristalsis is a muscular movement of hollow organs such as the intestine.

The medicine describes with the retrograde peristalsis a specific transport movement of the esophagus, stomach, large intestine or ureter, as well as uterus or fallopian tube in women. These structures call the anatomy hollow organs because they do not form a continuous compact cell mass and instead comprise an interior space. This cavity is also known as lumen; a skin-like covering tissue (epithelium) covers the inside of the cavity, while smooth muscle is present in the outer layers.

In peristalsis these muscles contract and force the contents of the hollow organ to move in a certain direction. Nerves of the autonomic nervous system control the smooth muscles, which the human being can not arbitrarily control.

Medicine also calls transport in the normal direction orthograde peristalsis. The retrograde peristalsis, however, describes the transport in the opposite direction and therefore carries the name antiperistals.

Function & Task

Smooth muscle surrounds hollow organs. Its name is reminiscent of the flat surface of the musculature: it lacks the transverse muscle strips that are characteristic of striated muscle. Compared to it, smooth muscle uses less energy and oxygen, but works more slowly.

The parasympathetic nervous system controls retrograde peristalsis. The parasympathetic nervous system is part of the autonomic nervous system. It controls involuntary processes that can not be deliberately initiated or interrupted by the individual. These processes are highly automated, requiring very little brain capacity. The activation of the sympathetic, the activating part of the nervous system, usually inhibits peristalsis.

However, the parasympathetic nervous system is not solely responsible for retrograde peristalsis: Especially in the stomach and ureter, the body's own reflexes trigger the transport movement. In peristalsis, the smooth musculature of a hollow organ contracts in a ring, thereby narrowing the lumen. The constriction forces the contents to move in a certain direction - in the retrograde peristalsis contrary to the physiological direction. The contraction continues in the transport direction and pushes the contents of the hollow organ, piece by piece, in the desired direction.

The retrograde peristalsis of the esophagus and stomach is mainly used for vomiting. The esophagus actively transports the chyme so as not to occlude. This also allows smaller residues to be removed from the esophagus. In this way, the esophagus protects against irritation and serious damage from the stomach acid. Remaining food particles also pose a potential risk of infection.

In the small and large intestine, the peristalsis conveys the intestinal contents to the rectum in the physiological direction. However, the movements of the colon are not continuous; they occur in phases. The digestive system of a healthy person goes through one to three such movement periods per day. Their number depends on various factors, such as the person's physical activity or the dietary fiber content of the food.

Retrograde peristalsis allows the large intestine to temporarily store stool. It is triggered not only by the parasympathetic nervous system, but also by the local peristaltic reflex of the intestine.

In women, peristalsis is used to transport the egg in the fallopian tube. In addition, the peristalsis of the uterus supports the removal and removal of the mucous membrane during menstruation. She also plays an important role in the birthing process.

Diseases & complaints

Normally, the peristalsis of the large intestine leads to up to three bowel movements per day, depending on physical activity, dietary fiber content, consumption of enteric stimulating substances and other factors. In addition, psychogenic influences also play a role in the frequency of peristalsis. The medicine speaks of a constipation when the intestine empties less than once in three days. Common symptoms of constipation include pain in the lower abdomen, unnatural feelings of fullness, pressure and movement-related pain, flatulence and the impression of incomplete emptying during bowel movements.

Longer-term constipation poses a risk for various reasons: The stool can physiologically clog the intestine and in extreme cases completely close the intestine; The intestinal walls can take mechanical damage and even tear due to hardened stool. In such a case, there is a risk that excrements get into the abdominal area, in which there are numerous organs. Invading bacteria and contaminants can then cause infections that can affect both the tissues between the organs and the organs themselves. The retrograde peristalsis of the large intestine can prevent this to some extent.

The retrograde peristalsis of the stomach also performs a protective function. If a person consumes potentially toxic substances, the body can initiate a series of reflexes and involuntary reactions. About the choking reflex and antiperistaltics the organism can induce vomiting. The muscles of the stomach contract and reduce the volume of the stomach so much that its contents push out. The contraction of the esophageal muscles also helps to transport the potential toxins out of the body. The active transport movement is even more important than the orthograde peristalsis because it has to transport the chyme both against the normal direction and against gravity.

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