Faecal incontinence means permanent bowel muscle weakness, so that patients are unable to retain digestive gases and stools in the bowel. Sufferers have no voluntary control over when they empty their bowels. Women are more likely to suffer than men and the true number of people suffering from the condition is unknown, because digestive problems are still a taboo subject. Consequently, faecal incontinence can often lead to social isolation.
There are many causes of the condition, including bowel disease, weak pelvic floor muscles and damage to the sphincter muscle following childbirth or surgery. Even neurological diseases or intestinal motility disorders such as constipation can result in faecal incontinence. Once the condition has been diagnosed, it is treated by drugs to regulate defecation and by pelvic floor exercises. Treatments also include surgical techniques such as sacral neuromodulation, in which gentle electrical pulses are delivered to the sacral nerves that control the function of the bladder and rectum, to bring them back into balance.
The new and highly promising "Sphinkeeper" surgical technique is now being trialled for the very first time at MedUni Vienna’s Division of General Surgery under the direction of surgeon Stefan Riss, Head of the surgical Pelvic Floor Clinic at Vienna General Hospital. Assisted by ultrasound imaging, tiny prostheses made of biocompatible material are implanted around the anal canal in a minimally invasive and low-risk procedure, to create an artificial sphincter muscle. This technique was developed in Italy and the highly promising preliminary results have already been published.
Says Riss: "Although we don't yet have many results from Sphinkeeper trials, we know from the Italian experiments that this method is low-risk and is well tolerated. We are now going to use it on 10 patients in our division and then evaluate it further. I am very confident that we will be able to help our patients to achieve better faecal control”. Sufferers often don’t know who to go to with this particular problem. Says Riss: "The best places to start are our surgical Pelvic Floor Clinic and the Continence and Pelvic Floor Center, where we make interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary diagnoses and develop treatment options."
Surgical Pelvic Floor Clinic, Department of Surgery, Division of General Surgery, Level 7C. Continence and Pelvic Floor Center of the Medical University of Vienna and Vienna General Hospital: beckenboden.meduniwien.ac.at