The elderly, patients with colorectal cancer or intestinal diseases and women who have had many children are all at risk - for a debilitating and embarrassing condition: bowel incontinence.
“It is actually more prevalent then people think. It’s one of those taboo topics no one wants to talk about,” says Dr. Janette Gaw, colorectal surgeon on Lee Memorial Health System’s medical staff.
In the U.S. alone an estimated 18-million people suffer from it. Similar to bladder incontinence, only they are unable to control a bowel movement.
“There are several factors that lead to fecal incontinence: tears during childbirth for example or if they’ve had surgeries in the rectal area. They can sometimes have injury or nerve damage,” says Dr. Gaw.
Bowel incontinence can be occasional or consistent. Depending on the severity, some people are able to keep it under control through non-invasive methods.
“The first thing we tell people is to change their diet. First we try to bulk up their stools with fiber supplements. And also people who have fecal incontinent learn to time their meals so they don’t have a big meal before a social event. Sometimes we try to constipate people with anti diarrheals and then we also send them to biofeedback therapy to strengthen their muscles,” says Dr. Gaw.
If those fail, there’s a device recently FDA approved for bowel incontinence. Called InterStim it’s an implantable nerve stimulator, which helps the body maintain control in the pelvic region.
“There’s a testing period for two weeks and if it works and people are showing there’s decrease in their incontinence episodes. We implant it and see how they do,” says Dr. Jeffrey Neale, colorectal surgeon on Lee Memorial Health System’s medical staff.
A pacemaker for the pelvis, the device goes under the skin near the buttocks and delivers patients mild electrical pulses.
“The urge is there, but also it gives them more tone in that area. Whereas people who are incontinent generally have very weak tone and that’s sort of the benefit of the device,” says Dr. Neale.
All options for people held hostage by their bowels.