Surgical Interventions and the Use of Device-Aided Therapy for the Treatment of Fecal Incontinence and Defecatory Disorders

Adil E. Bharucha; Satish S. C. Rao; Andrea S. Shin


Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2017;15(12):1844-1854. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


The purpose of this clinical practice update expert review is to describe the key principles in the use of surgical interventions and device-aided therapy for managing fecal incontinence (FI) and defecatory disorders. The best practices outlined in this review are based on relevant publications, including systematic reviews and expert opinion (when applicable).

Best Practice Advice 1: A stepwise approach should be followed for management of FI. Conservative therapies (diet, fluids, techniques to improve evacuation, a bowel training program, management of diarrhea and constipation with diet and medications if necessary) will benefit approximately 25% of patients and should be tried first.

Best Practice Advice 2: Pelvic floor retraining with biofeedback therapy is recommended for patients with FI who do not respond to the conservative measures indicated above.

Best Practice Advice 3: Perianal bulking agents such as intra-anal injection of dextranomer may be considered when conservative measures and biofeedback therapy fail.

Best Practice Advice 4: Sacral nerve stimulation should be considered for patients with moderate or severe FI in whom symptoms have not responded after a 3-month or longer trial of conservative measures and biofeedback therapy and who do not have contraindications to these procedures.

Best Practice Advice 5: Until further evidence is available, percutaneous tibial nerve stimulation should not be used for managing FI in clinical practice.

Best Practice Advice 6: Barrier devices should be offered to patients who have failed conservative or surgical therapy, or in those who have failed conservative therapy who do not want or are not eligible for more invasive interventions.

Best Practice Advice 7: Anal sphincter repair (sphincteroplasty) should be considered in postpartum women with FI and in patients with recent sphincter injuries. In patients who present later with symptoms of FI unresponsive to conservative and biofeedback therapy and evidence of sphincter damage, sphincteroplasty may be considered when perianal bulking injection and sacral nerve stimulation are not available or have proven unsuccessful.

Best Practice Advice 8: The artificial anal sphincter, dynamic graciloplasty, may be considered for patients with medically refractory severe FI who have failed treatment or are not candidates for barrier devices, sacral nerve stimulation, perianal bulking injection, sphincteroplasty and a colostomy.

Best Practice Advice 9: Major anatomic defects (eg, rectovaginal fistula, full-thickness rectal prolapse, fistula in ano, or cloaca-like deformity) should be rectified with surgery.

Best Practice Advice 10: A colostomy should be considered in patients with severe FI who have failed conservative treatment and have failed or are not candidates for barrier devices, minimally invasive surgical interventions, and sphincteroplasty.

Best Practice Advice 11: A magnetic anal sphincter device may be considered for patients with medically refractory severe FI who have failed or are not candidates for barrier devices, perianal bulking injection, sacral nerve stimulation, sphincteroplasty, or a colostomy. Data regarding efficacy are limited and 40% of patients had moderate or severe complications.

Best Practice Advice 12: For defecatory disorders, biofeedback therapy is the treatment of choice.

Best Practice Advice 13: Based on limited evidence, sacral nerve stimulation should not be used for managing defecatory disorders in clinical practice.

Best Practice Advice 14: Anterograde colonic enemas are not effective in the long term for management of defecatory disorders.

Best Practice Advice 15: The stapled transanal rectal resection and related procedures should not be routinely performed for correction of structural abnormalities in patients with defecatory disorders.


Fecal incontinence (FI) is the recurrent uncontrolled passage of liquid or solid stool. FI affects 7% to 15% of community-dwelling women and men.[1,2] The prevalence of FI is higher among care-seeking populations, home-care populations, and adults in long-term care settings.[3]

FI can have a devastating impact on daily life,[2,4,5] underscoring the need to manage the symptoms effectively. In addition to a loss of confidence, self-respect, modesty, and composure,[6] there is a social stigma attached to FI. Thus, many people with FI do not share the condition with their friends or physicians. Hence, physicians routinely should screen patients who may be at risk for symptoms of FI.

Having made the diagnosis of FI, the management is guided by the severity of FI, its impact on quality of life, and the risk factors for FI.