Surgical Implant Nearly Eliminates Once Frequent Bowel Accidents

You don’t need a medical degree to know that muscles become weaker with age. But, did you ever stop to think this includes the muscles that control your bowels. Susan, 52, of the Slate Belt has. She suspects the cause of her recent experience with bowel incontinence was age, combined with injury caused decades ago from the birth of a nine-pound baby and surgery to treat an ulcerated colon. When she was only 24 a foot of her colon was removed, but it wasn’t until she was around 50 that the incontinence surfaced.

“My bowels were letting loose whenever they felt like it,” says Susan, who had as many as five accidents a day. “By the time my body sent the message that it was time to go, it was already out. It was devastating. It was embarrassing. I thought I can’t keep going on this way, I’m constantly going to the bathroom.”

During one routine screening colonoscopy in spring of 2015, Susan told colorectal surgeon Camille Eyvazzadeh, MD, that she was experiencing increasingly frequent bowel accidents. He suggested sacral nerve stimulation (SNS) therapy, which has proven effective in reducing, and in many cases, eliminating bowel accidents.

Using the InterStim® Therapy System, approved in 2011 by the Federal Drug Administration, Dr. Eyvazzadeh surgically implants an electrical lead on the sacral nerve and the neurostimulator under the skin of the patient’s back.

About the size of a pager, the neurostimulator applies a small electrical stimulation to the sacral nerve that controls the anal sphincter. A programmer, which remains outside of the body, controls the intensity of the stimulation.

Before beginning the therapy, tests to pinpoint the cause of the incontinence determined Susan was a good candidate for SNS treatment. She began a two-week trial using an external neurostimulator.

“Once they put that in, I had no more accidents,” she said. “It was amazing.” Consequently on April 15, 2015, Dr. Eyvazzadeh implanted the permanent system. The surgery was quick and Susan says the little discomfort she experienced afterwards was a small price to pay for the life-changing results.

“I hid my condition for 10 months of the year while I worked,” says Susan, a teacher. “On good days, I wore a pad and carried a change of clothes in case I didn’t make it on time.

On bad days I took time off from work and had gone through quite a few sick days.” She lived with inconvenience and embarrassment for a year and half never knowing that SNS therapy was available.

“It’s not something that comes up in conversation,” Susan says. “You feel embarrassed to talk about such things. You just don’t go up to someone and say are you having bowel leakage?”

In fact even now, the only people beside her doctor who know that she has the device are her husband and best friend. But, Susan wants others suffering from bowel incontinence to know that help is available and would recommend SNS therapy to anyone.

“It’s life changing when you have bowel accidents,” Susan says. “And it’s life changing when the problem’s gone again. You get your normal life back. It’s like it didn’t even exist.”