Clinical value of colonic irrigation in patients with continence disturbances

Dis Colon Rectum. 1997 Jul;40(7):802-5. doi: 10.1007/BF02055436.


Continence disturbances, especially fecal soiling, are difficult to treat. Irrigation of the distal part of the large bowel might be considered as a nonsurgical alternative for patients with impaired continence.

Purpose: This study is aimed at evaluating the clinical value of colonic irrigation.

Methods: Thirty-two patients (16 females; median age, 47 (range, 23-72) years) were offered colonic irrigation on an ambulatory basis. Sixteen patients suffered from fecal soiling (Group I), whereas the other 16 patients were treated for fecal incontinence (Group II). Patients were instructed by enterostomal therapists how to use a conventional colostomy irrigation set to obtain sufficient irrigation of the distal part of their large bowel. Patients with continence disturbances during the daytime were instructed to introduce 500 to 1,000 ml of warm (38 degrees C) water within 5 to 10 minutes after they passed their first stool. In addition, they were advised to wait until the urge to defecate was felt. Patients with soiling during overnight sleep were advised to irrigate during the evening. To determine clinical outcome, a detailed questionnaire was used.

Results: Median duration of follow-up was 18 months. Ten patients discontinued irrigation within the first month of treatment. Symptoms resolved completely in two patients. They believed that there was no need to continue treatment any longer. Irrigation had no effect in two patients. Despite the fact that symptoms resolved, six patients discontinued treatment because they experienced pain (n = 2) or they considered the irrigation to be too time-consuming (n = 4). Twenty-two patients are still performing irrigations. Most patients irrigated the colon in the morning after the first stool was passed. Time needed for washout varied between 10 and 90 minutes. Frequency of irrigations varied from two times per day to two times per week. In Group I, irrigation was found to be beneficial in 92 percent of patients, whereas 60 percent of patients in Group II considered the treatment as a major improvement to the quality of their lives. If patients who discontinued treatment because of washout-related problems are included in the assessment of final outcome, the success rate is 79 and 38 percent respectively.

Conclusions: Patients with fecal soiling benefit more from colonic irrigation than patients with incontinence for liquid or solid stools. If creation of a stoma is considered, especially in patients with intractable and disabling soiling, it might be worthwhile to treat these patients first by colonic irrigation.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Ambulatory Care
  • Colon / pathology*
  • Colon / physiopathology
  • Colostomy / instrumentation
  • Defecation
  • Enema
  • Evaluation Studies as Topic
  • Fecal Incontinence / therapy*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Dropouts
  • Patient Satisfaction
  • Quality of Life
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Therapeutic Irrigation / adverse effects
  • Therapeutic Irrigation / instrumentation
  • Therapeutic Irrigation / methods
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Water


  • Water