Hirschsprung’s disease (HD) is a form of megacolon that occurs when part or all of the large intestine or antecedent parts of the gastrointestinal tract have no ganglion cells and therefore cannot function. During normal prenatal development, cells from the neural crest migrate into the large intestine (colon) to form the networks of nerves called the myenteric plexus (Auerbach plexus) (between the smooth muscle layers of the gastrointestinal tract wall) and the submucosal plexus (Meissner plexus) (within the submucosa of the gastrointestinal tract wall).
In Hirschsprung’s disease, the migration is not complete and part of the colon lacks these nerve bodies that regulate the activity of the colon. The affected segment of the colon cannot relax and pass stool through the colon, creating an obstruction. In most affected people, the disorder affects the part of the colon that is nearest the anus. In rare cases, the lack of nerve bodies involves more of the colon. In five percent of cases, the entire colon is affected. The stomach and esophagus may be affected too.