Fecal Incontinence: Don’t Suffer in Silence

Fecal incontinence significantly affects quality of life, but sufferers tend to stay silent because of embarrassment or the belief that nothing will change the situation. There are treatments that can help you regain control of your life, including a promising new option.

The condition ranges from occasional bowel leakage while passing gas to a complete loss of bowel control. Some of the most common causes of fecal incontinence are pelvic trauma caused by childbirth, spinal injuries, anal surgery, nerve damage and age.

The first line of treatment typically involves changes to diet, the addition of fiber, pelvic floor and muscle exercises and medications such as loperamide. A recent study suggests that psyllium fiber, a bulk-forming laxative made from the outer husks of psyllium seeds, is as effective as loperamide in treating fecal incontinence, with fewer side effects. Side effects of loperamide can include constipation, abdominal pain, headache and some central nervous system effects. These side effects can be particularly problematic for elderly patients. Both psyllium fiber and loperamide cause gas.

Until recently, the only other treatment option available was a more invasive one – surgical repair of the sphincter muscles.

Here at Gastrointestinal Associates, we are very pleased to be working with a board-certified urologist to bring a promising new treatment option to our patients – the InterStim® Therapy for Bowel Control. The system uses an implantable device similar to a pacemaker that stimulates the sacral nerves to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles and sphincter complex. The system has been effectively treating urinary incontinence and overactive bladder since 1997; it received FDA approval for the treatment of fecal incontinence in 2011.

Research suggests that the therapy is very effective. A multisite clinical study (published in the 2010 Annals of Surgery) tracked 120 InterStim® patients for one year. The study found that 83 percent of participants experienced a 50 percent or higher reduction in bowel incontinence episodes. Better yet, 40 percent regained total control of their bowels.

In another randomized, controlled trial comparing InterStim® therapy to optimized medical therapy (the results of which were published in Diseases of the Colon and Rectum), 47 percent of the 60 InterStim® patients experienced no incontinence episodes during the 12 months following implant.

Before the system is implanted, patients first are fitted with an external device for a two-week trial period to be sure the treatment works for them. Following a successful trial period, a surgeon implants the stopwatch-sized device beneath the patient’s skin on the lower back. This minimally invasive, completely reversible procedure offers new hope to the millions of Americans suffering from a devastating condition that greatly diminishes their ability to enjoy everyday life.

Imagine going through life lacking the ability to control your bowels. For far too many individuals, that frightening prospect is reality. GIA is proud to be at the forefront in bringing this viable treatment option to our area. If you’re suffering from fecal incontinence, call us today to see how we can help you.