Children with Hirschsprung’s disease are born with ganglion cells missing from part of their intestine. Ganglion cells are a type of nerve cell that control the movement of stool down the intestine. With Hirschsprung’s disease, the stool moves slowly or stops at the part with missing nerve cells, and the child isn’t able to have a normal bowel movement.
Most children with this condition have missing nerve cells in the rectum and the sigmoid colon — the last part of the bowel. In some children, the entire colon (large intestine) is missing these cells. In rare cases, the last part of the small intestine is also missing nerve cells.
Hirschsprung’s disease affects about one in 5,000 newborns, though symptoms may not occur until they are older. It is more common in boys and in children who have a close relative with the condition.