Objective: To characterize the longer-term therapeutic response of permanent sacral nerve stimulation for fecal incontinence and to delineate suitable indications and the mode of action.
Summary background data: A single report of permanent sacral nerve stimulation in three patients followed up for 6 months showed marked improvement in fecal continence. Acute evaluation has shown that the effect may be mediated by altered rectal and anal smooth muscle activity, and facilitation of external sphincter contraction.
Methods: Five women (age 41-68 years) with fecal incontinence for solid or liquid stool at least once per week were followed up for a median of 16 months after permanent implantation. All had passive incontinence, and three had urge incontinence. The cause was scleroderma in two, primary internal sphincter degeneration in one, diffuse weakness of both sphincters in one, and disruption of both sphincters in one.
Results: All patients had marked improvement. Urgency resolved in all three patients with this symptom. Passive soiling resolved completely in three and was reduced to minor episodes in two. Continence scores (scale 0-20) improved from a median of 16 before surgery to 2 after surgery. There were no early complications, and there have been no side effects. One patient required wound exploration at 6 months for local pain, and a lead replacement at 12 months for electrode displacement. The quality of life assessment improved in all patients. The resting pressure increased in four patients, but there was no consistent measured physiologic change that could account for the symptomatic improvement.
Conclusions: In patients with sphincter degeneration and weakness, and possibly in those with sphincter disruption, sacral nerve stimulation markedly improves fecal incontinence.