Doctors offer new help for an old problem most people don’t want to discuss

Posted at 1:26 PM, Apr 11, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-11 13:26:46-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- It's a condition that affects one in 12 adults over the age of 60, yet it's rarely discussed because living with the problem can be socially and emotionally challenging.

"When people come in and tell you what their symptoms are, they're in emotional distress," Dr. Peter Miller, a colorectal surgeon with Henrico Doctors' Hospital, said.

Leaking bowels or fecal incontinence is the inability to control bowel movements. It's more common in women and the elderly, but the condition can impact almost anyone.

While doctors may recommend treatments that include everything from dietary changes to medications and physical therapy, physicians are now finding promise in a procedure known as Sacral Nerve Stimulation (SNS) to help cure symptoms of fecal incontinence.

Up until recently, SNS was only used to treat patients for urinary incontinence.

SNS uses a mild electrical signal to restore normal function to the nerves surrounding the bowels.

"It's almost like a pacemaker for the backside, where you are stimulating the muscle and nerve pathways that tell you when you need to go to the bathroom," Miller said. "So you're sort of rewiring the system."

The surgery, where a small device is implanted under the skin and a thin wire is placed near the sacral nerves, is safe and effective, he said. Recent studies showed the procedure to be successful in 98% of patients.

Miller said his patients have renewed confidence and peace of mind when it comes to remaining active and enjoying activities outside their home.

"People who weren't able to go out to the supermarket, weren't able to go eat with their friends because they were so scared of having an accident," Miller said. "When you fix them, I can tell you they're the happiest people that will come into your office."

Working For Your Health is a partnership with HCA Healthcare. Serving the greater Richmond area, Chippenham, Henrico Doctors’, Johnston-Willis, Parham Doctors’, and Retreat Doctors’ Hospital are part of HCA Virginia. Watch for Working For Your Health reports Tuesdays on CBS 6 News at 7 p.m.

Watch for Working For Your Health reports on CBS 6.