Treatment of fecal incontinence: State of the science summary for the national institute of diabetes and digestive and kidney diseases workshop

William E. Whitehead, Satish S.C. Rao, Ann Lowry, Deborah Nagle, Madhulika Varma, Khalil N. Bitar, Adil E. Bharucha, Frank A. Hamilton

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

61 Scopus citations


This is the second of a two-part summary of a National Institutes of Health conference on fecal incontinence (FI) that summarizes current treatments and identifies research priorities. Conservative medical management consisting of patient education, fiber supplements or antidiarrheals, behavioral techniques such as scheduled toileting, and pelvic floor exercises restores continence in up to 25% of patients. Biofeedback, often recommended as first-line treatment after conservative management fails, produces satisfaction with treatment in up to 76% and continence in 55%; however, outcomes depend on the skill of the therapist, and some trials are less favorable. Electrical stimulation of the anal mucosa is ineffective, but continuous electrical pulsing of sacral nerves produces a ≥50% reduction in FI frequency in a median 73% of patients. Tibial nerve electrical stimulation with needle electrodes is promising but remains unproven. Sphincteroplasty produces short-term clinical improvement in a median 67%, but 5-year outcomes are poor. Injecting an inert bulking agent around the anal canal led to ≥50% reductions of FI in up to 53% of patients. Colostomy is used as a last resort because of adverse effects on quality of life. Several new devices are under investigation but not yet approved. FI researchers identify the following priorities for future research: (1) trials comparing the effectiveness, safety, and cost of current therapies; (2) studies addressing barriers to consulting for care; and (3) translational research on regenerative medicine. Unmet patient needs include FI in special populations (e.g., neurological disorders and nursing home residents) and improvements in behavioral treatments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)138-146
Number of pages9
JournalAmerican Journal of Gastroenterology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 10 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Hepatology
  • Gastroenterology


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