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Published on November 04, 2014

The Other Incontinence: Suffer No More

Nearly 18 million adults in the U.S. suffer from a medical condition that embarrasses them, limits them and leaves them not wanting to speak to their doctor. That condition is fecal incontinence, also called bowel incontinence.

People suffering with this condition experience the inability to control bowel movements, causing stool to leak unexpectedly from the rectum.

According to Dr. Soo Kim, a Colon and Rectal Surgeon at Abington Memorial Hospital, some patients dealing with fecal incontinence experience its symptoms daily; others experience it more occasionally.  

Sufferers will have an occasional bout of diarrhea, along with the inability to control the passage of gas or stools from bowels. Many times, they won’t be able to make it to the bathroom in time.

“Oftentimes, along with those symptoms, people describe when they go somewhere, they have to know exactly where the bathroom is. So sometimes they won't leave the house or will only go to places where they know exactly where the bathroom is,” Dr. Kim explained. This aspect of fecal incontinence severely inhibits the activities patients can partake in.

On top of all of that, they’re embarrassed.

“People don't like to talk about it. They won't even address it with their own physician, so they just deal with it at home using pads and limiting their lives,” she said.

However, there are a number of treatments and therapies available that she said can be life changing for those suffering with fecal incontinence. In some cases, Dr. Kim said patients can be treated with a simple diet modification, such as adding some fiber, taking Imodium, or strengthening kegel muscles.

“Even those with minimal and very infrequent episodes … can still be helped. Some minor changes can help them so they never require medical procedures,” she said.

For patients that experience accidents on a daily basis, there are procedures that can provide additional relief. One such procedure is InterStim therapy, which involves having a small device surgically implanted to stimulate the nerves that control your bladder and bowel with mild electrical pulses. By stimulating these nerves with a mild electric current, the neurostimulator helps your bowel, rectum and bladder to work as they should.

“It’s actually a very minor procedure. The surgery causes barely any pain and has been extremely effective with little to no risk,” Dr. Kim said, noting that the most common complication is wound infection, which she prevents in her patients with antibiotics before and after the procedure. It’s so minor, in fact, that patients go home the same day as the surgery, she said.

Patients may also try biofeedback therapy, which is an outpatient physical therapy.

“It sort of retrains your muscles to hold in and evacuate stool properly,” Dr. Kim said.

There are many different types of lifestyle modifications and procedures that can help with fecal incontinence, but the key is speaking to your doctor.

“If patents are suffering to any degree, they should go to their primary doctor or a GI doctor, to see what options are out there for them. There's something that could potentially help them and make their lives better,” Dr. Kim explained.

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