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Sacral Neuromodulation: Life-changing treatment for those suffering from fecal incontinence

March 7, 2016 | Mary South, MD, MHA

Picture this: you are out with your girlfriends, enjoying a glass of wine, and…uh oh.  It’s not just a little leaking – the kind you might laugh about together.

Bowel incontinence, otherwise known as fecal incontinence, or Accidental Bowel Leakage is more common than most people realize. It is estimated that 2% to 20% of women, depending on age, in the U.S. are affected by this debilitating disease. And regardless of what you call it, it is downright embarrassing!

Fecal Incontinence (FI), also known as Accidental Bowel Leakage (ABL), is defined as the involuntary loss of feces (solid or liquid stool).  ABL can occur once a month, once a week, daily or even more.  Obviously, this can be very embarrassing, annoying, inconvenient, and significantly impact one’s quality of life.

Why does a person develop FI?

FI is often the result of damage to the nerves and/or the anal sphincter during childbirth, although it usually manifests later in life.  Aging, constipation, radiation, and other neurologic conditions can lead to FI. Many treatment options have been tested over the years, including dietary modification, medications, pelvic floor physical therapy, biofeedback, surgical repair of the anal sphincter, and various devices. However, in March of 2011, the FDA approved the use of sacral neuromodulation – a minimally invasive technique used to treat FI as well as urinary incontinence – which has revolutionized the treatment of the disease.

What is sacral neuromodulation or InterStim® therapy?

Sacral neuromodulation is also referred to as InterStim® therapy – the trade name of the implantable neurostimulator device. The easiest way to conceptualize sacral neuromodulation is to think of it as a bladder and bowel pacemaker that sits just under the skin of the buttocks, much like a cardiac pacemaker.  This device uses electrical pulses to inform the neural activity that ultimately influences muscles in the bladder and pelvic floor.

Studies show that InterStim® significantly improves symptoms of FI in nearly 90% of patients with an average of 36% of patients being completely cured. Although it may sound like something out of a science fiction movie, sacral neuromodulation is minimally invasive, reversible, and has few risks associated with implantation. With it’s proven rate of success, sacral neuromodulation is becoming a more common treatment, bringing many women some much-needed relief!

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