Sacral Nerve Stimulation

Bowel incontinence is not an easy topic to discuss with friends, family, even your doctor.

Sacral Nerve Stimulation

If you suffer from the inability to control your bowel movements, you are not alone. This condition affects millions of people. According to the National Institute of Health, more than 18 million Americans suffer from fecal incontinence (FI). 15% of women over age 50 experience FI. Men are affected, but less often than women.

Definition of Fecal Incontinence

Bowel incontinence, also known as fecal incontinence (FI), prevents you from controlling your bowel movements. You may experience unexpected leaks, or use the bathroom very frequently. Some people experience a combination of these symptoms.

Causes of Fecal Incontinence

Bowel incontinence is usually an acquired disorder. It may be caused by:

  • Obstetrical injury from pregnancy or childbirth
  • Stroke or advanced age
  • Nerve or muscular damage caused by surgery or injury
  • Conditions that affect the nerves, such as diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis
  • Inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome
  • Congenital disorders

People may suffer from bowel incontinence due to not being able to sense a bowel movement, while others are able to sense a bowel movement but can’t hold it until they get to a bathroom.

Conservative Therapies

Behavioral Techniques

Lifestyle changes, diet modification, bowel retraining, Kegel exercises and other kinds of physical therapy can be effective in reducing bowel incontinence symptoms.


Your doctor may prescribe medications to help control the symptoms of bowel incontinence. Medications used for bowel control problems offer a possible solution and may include anti-diarrheal medicines.

Conservative management outcomes are often poor. Additional options include injections, sphincter muscle surgery and colostomies (“stool bag”). Each has mixed results, and most people prefer to avoid “a bag”.

New Treatment for Fecal Incontinence

The surgeons at Our Group offer neurostimulation (neuromodulation) to selected patients who have not had success with, or are not a candidate for, more conservative treatments.

InterStim® Therapy (SNS)

InterStim® Therapy (SNS) is an FDA-approved neurostimulation therapy that targets the communication problem between the brain and the nerves that control bowel function. If those nerves are not communicating correctly, the bowel muscles may not function properly and may cause bowel control problems.

Neurostimulation can eliminate or reduce your symptoms to a tolerable level and allow you to resume your daily activities and “get your life back”.

Is InterStim® Therapy (SNS) Right For You?

InterStim® Therapy is designed to minimize the symptoms of bowel incontinence, including the leakage of liquid or solid stools. Prior to undergoing a permanent implantation of the neurostimulation device patients undergo a trial assessment. This allows you to determine if neurostimulation is right for you before making a long-term commitment. The trial assessment may take up to several days to complete.

Here’s how it works:

  • InterStim® Therapy is an outpatient procedure that is performed in the operating room
  • Your doctor will implant a thin, flexible wire (also known as a “lead,” and pronounced “leed”) near your tailbone. The wire is taped to your skin and connected to a small external device which you’ll wear on your waistband
  • The external device sends mild electrical pulses through the wire to nerves near your tailbone. The stimulation may get your bowel working the way it is supposed to. During the trial assessment, you’ll wear an external neurostimulator on your waistband for several days. You can continue many of your low- to moderate-level daily activities with caution. You can usually continue to work throughout your trial assessment if your job doesn’t require strenuous movement
  • You’ll be asked to document your symptoms. The trial assessment will help your doctor determine the next course of treatment for your bowel control problems. Your doctor or nurse will give you information about operating the test stimulator. He or she will also tell you about any precautions or activity restrictions related to the trial assessment
  • If neurostimulation has worked for you in the trial period, a flexible wire (also known as a “lead” and pronounced “leed”) and a neurostimulator are implanted under the skin permanently. This is done through a minimally invasive outpatient procedure.


Living with InterStim® Therapy

InterStim® Therapy can help you avoid frustrating experiences associated with bowel incontinence. You may be able to do things you were not able to do before receiving InterStim® Therapy – take long walks through the park, see movies at the theater, or travel. While it may take a while to adjust to the therapy, you should feel comfortable participating in the daily activities of living.

Remember: Even after you’ve made a full recovery from surgery and resumed your normal routine, it’s important to stay in touch with your doctor about any questions or concerns you have.

To learn more about InterStim® Therapy and to find out if you are a candidate, please call our office to schedule an appointment.

Please note: In order to become a candidate for InterStim® therapy, insurance approval is required prior to implantation of the Interstim® device. Rest assured – our office will not only help you determine if InterStim® is right for you. We will also work with you and assist you in obtaining coverage from your insurance provider.

Design courtesy of Rochester Colon and Rectal Surgeons